Internet is built around the idea of openness. It allows people to connect and exchange information freely, if the information or service is not illegal. Much of this is because of the idea of net neutrality. If you like the current state of the internet, you should know about net neutrality. Many web users are aware of it. But if you are not, don’t worry. We explain it here:
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality: It is the guiding principle of Internet –which is open. Net neutrality preserves the right of internet users to communicate freely through online. Internet service providers will be prevented from providing preferential treatment to few services with deep pockets.
Three basic points of net neutrality include:
- All sites must be equally accessible
- All sites must be accessible at the same speed.
- The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan).Net neutrality is an idea derived from how telephone lines have worked since the beginning of the 20th century. In case of a telephone line, you can dial any number and connect to it. It does not matter if you are calling from operator A to operator B. It doesn’t matter if you are calling a restaurant or a drug dealer. The operators neither block the access to a number nor deliberately delay connection to a particular number, unless forced by the law. Most of the countries have rules that ask telecom operators to provide an unfiltered and unrestricted phone service.When the internet started to take off in 1980s and 1990s, there were no specific rules that asked that internet service providers (ISPs) should follow the same principle. But, mostly because telecom operators were also ISPs, they adhered to the same principle. This principle is known as net neutrality. An ISP does not control the traffic that passes its servers. When a web user connects to a website or web service, he or she gets the same speed. Data rate for Youtube videos and Facebook photos is theoretically same. Users can access any legal website or web service without any interference from an ISP.Some countries have rules that enforce net neutrality but most don’t. Instead, the principle is followed because that is how it has always been. It is more of a norm than a law.
How did net neutrality shape the internet?
Net neutrality has shaped the internet in two fundamental ways.
One, web users are free to connect to whatever website or service they want. ISPs do not bother with what kind of content is flowing from their servers. This has allowed the internet to grow into a truly global network and has allowed people to freely express themselves. For example, you can criticize your ISP on a blog post and the ISP will not restrict access to that post for its other subscribers even though the post may harm its business.
But more importantly, net neutrality has enabled a level playing field on the internet. To start a website, you don’t need lot of money or connections. Just host your website and you are good to go. If your service is good, it will find favour with web users. Unlike the cable TV where you have to forge alliances with cable connection providers to make sure that your channel reaches viewers, on internet you don’t have to talk to ISPs to put your website online.
This has led to creation Google, Facebook, Twitter and countless other services. All of these services had very humble beginnings. They started as a basic websites with modest resources. But they succeeded because net neutrality allowed web users to access these websites in an easy and unhindered way.
What will happen if there is no net neutrality?
If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power (and inclination) to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it. For example, several ISPs believe that they should be allowed to charge companies for services like YouTube and Netflix because these services consume more bandwidth compared to a normal website. Basically, these ISPs want a share in the money that YouTube or Netflixmake.
Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it will not exist. Instead of free access, there could be “package plans” for consumers. For example, if you pay Rs 500, you will only be able to access websites based in India. To access international websites, you may have to pay a more. Or maybe there can be different connection speed for different type of content, depending on how much you are paying for the service and what “add-on package” you have bought.
Lack of net neutrality, will also spell doom for innovation on the web. It is possible that ISPs will charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may see that their websites will open slowly. This means bigger companies like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube or Google+ faster for web users but a startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.
Instead of an open and free internet, without net neutrality we are likely to get a web that has silos in it and to enter each silo, you will have to pay some “tax” to ISPs.
Regulating Internet has several negative consequences
1.Internet is a powerful force of economic and social good.Digital freedom is as much necessary as the freedom of speech and other fundamental rights granted in modern democracies.
2.Because , online world is no less than the real world .It influences people’ opinions and their approach ,shapes their aspirations and desire, enhance their knowledge ,enrich their skills and serve as a medium for interaction, interconnection and interface.
3.Internet is crucial to maintaining fast contact and communication between different places,groups, agencies , organizations and government.An unregulated Internet service without bias is essential to maintain it’s sanctity and build people trust in using it.
4.Uninterrupted and non -discriminatory Internet is crucial to maintain high Internet standard,bring competition and innovations which would make Internet more cheaper, user friendly and accessible and improve the quality of services.
However, certain contents that violates the crucial human values, propagates hatred,insults and violences and ideology that run against social order and peace or considered inappropriate to certain class of users ,age groups are rightly justified to be banned and restricted
Why ‘Net Neutrality’ is in news?
Airtel has announced a new service called Airtel Zero where it will offer customers free access to certain apps and services, with cost of this data traffic being borne by the partner. For example, if Flipkart signs up as an Airtel Zero partner, you will not be charged for data you use while accessing Flipkart, and Airtel will bill Flipkart for that session.
While that may sound great on paper, experts say that in the long term it’s against consumer interests, because consumers are more likely to use free services. They say smaller companies, who cannot afford to subsidise consumer access to their websites and services, are likely to lose out, stifling innovation in the country, which means fewer options for consumers in the long run.
Current Status of Net neutrality in India
As of 2015, India had no laws governing net neutrality. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, they are not enforced. The Information Technology Act, 2000 does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests. In March 2015, the TRAI released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It was condemned by various politicians and internet users. By 24 April 2015, over a million emails had been sent to TRAI demanding net neutrality
Arguments in favor of Net Neutrality:
- Absence of net-neutrality also makes us susceptible to monopolistic behavior. Each telco would be able to create little monopolies on its network favoring a particular service.
- If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power (and inclination) to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it.
- Lack of net neutrality, will also spell doom for innovation on the web. It is possible that ISPs will charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may see that their websites will open slowly. This means bigger companies like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube or Google+ faster for web users but a startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.
Arguments against Net Neutrality:
- Users who download gigabytes of data may unfairly hog bandwidth resources from those who don’t. By throttling certain users or types of data, ISPs can be sure that every user has an optimal experience.
- Certain important Internet services require heavy and uninterrupted bandwidth use, such as medical services or VOIP. ISPs want to give special preference to these unique services that could benefit from special treatment, and possibly could not exist without this preferential treatment.
- It gives the government more power over the Internet. If net neutrality went into effect, then the government would have to monitor the telecoms’ and cable companies’ broadband connections
- IT makes perfect sense to allow ISPs to charge extra for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) services, which clog up a lot of bandwidth. These services are hardly used by India’s poor and in fact end up slowing down access to the basic services that less economically-privileged citizens need more. This isn’t simply a matter of profitability; the question is how to maximize the efficiency of limited bandwidth.
- For people who are not on the internet having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations.
- The internet is one of the most powerful tools for social and economic progress, giving people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities, something that everyone in the world deserves access to.
- By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, Internet.org offers free access in local languages to basic internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. Internet.org lowers the cost of accessing the Internet and raises the awareness of the internet’s value.