The debate over Net Neutrality in India is gaining momentum since the last few weeks due to lack of stringent Information and Technology laws that enforces Net Neutrality which demands equal access to all content and applications, regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
Despite uproar over the lobbying of Telecom Company's (Telcos) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for curbing the very nature of Net Neutrality, no decisive response from the government has come so far.
Telecom companies such as Airtel, Vodafone, Aircel among others and the Internet service providers such as BSNL, Airtel and MTNL have been lobbying to the government to bring the over-the-top (OTT) service providers like What's APP, Line, WeChat and Skype under the ambit of licensing for offering VoIP features such as alternative to phone calling and messaging- which are hampering the revenues of these telecom companies badly.
"I believe that Internet with the principles by which it was founded, we should preserve it. Let us not try to monetise that and let us make a common platform and let us make it everybody's birth right to have access to the Internet free. Just like freedom of speech, you should have freedom of Internet," said Hitendra Chaturvedi, CEO & Founder, GreenDust.
There has been a rising furore over the issue- reasoning, the telecom operators and the ISPs are mandated to pay their considerable amount of profit to the government while ruled to pay heavy price for satellite spectrum space in different bandwidth.
The debate on Net Neutrality started intensifying after Airtel introduced 'Airtel Zero' in the wake of a 117 page consultation paper issued by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) on whether telecom firms can be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of Internet data such as email, Internet browsing and use of apps such as Whatsapp, Viber and Skype.
Launched on 6th April, 'Airtel Zero,' a platform would offer users free access to certain mobile apps. These apps will be from developers who have signed up with the company. But following the fierce user backlash, soon Flipkart opted out of Airtel Zero, and Airtel withdrew the plan.
In support of freedom of Internet, the government has jumped into the debate while setting up a committee to study Net Neutrality issues which it will submit its report by 15 May 2015. "The NDA government will not compromise on Net Neutrality as long as it is in power," said Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Rajya Sabha on 3rd May.
"The government stands for ensuring non-discriminatory access to the Internet for all citizens, and the current debate on Net Neutrality should be seen from this perspective, while resolving the issues harmoniously with constitutional and economic principles. The government agrees with the viewpoint that blocking and deliberately slowing down/speeding up of lawful content on the Internet should not be allowed, and customers should have unrestricted access to all lawful content on the Internet," added Prasad.
"We're introducing the Internet.org platform, an open programme for developers to easily create services that integrate with Internet.org. We're also giving people more choice over the free basic services they can use," a company release said.
"Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities," it said. "To do this, we're going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that's more transparent and inclusive," the release added.
Meanwhile, US regulator Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has said that it will enforce Net Neutrality from June 2015. Its pro-Net Neutrality stance has major backing from large technology players such as Google and Amazon. British comedian John Oliver's show on Net Neutrality changed the debate in the US last June, and flooded the US regulator with user support for Net Neutrality.
Trai, which regulates the telecom industry, has tried to come up with some rules regarding Net Neutrality several times. It invited comments on the concept of Net Neutrality from industry bodies and stakeholders in 2006. But no formal rules have been formed to uphold and enforce it. Trai had again invited the comments on the subject till 25th April 2015, which resulted into lakhs of emails flooding into the Trai's inbox.