Net Neutrality: Who decides how much the Internet Costs?

As we develop, we move on to new methods. New methods to anything or everything. We need it. We crave innovations. We breath on new ideas. Now we even have a new method of viewing the world. We can just go ‘online’. Press a few buttons and we can access one of the most beautifully dangerous resource named the Internet. All that aside. We came across the concept of ‘net neutrality’ or ‘internet neutrality’. The principal of net neutrality refers to the equal treatment of all data over the internet by the Internet service provider (ISPs). The term was coined by Columbia university media law professor Tim Wu in 2003 as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier. We face this issue because of a chain of events which can be traced back to December 2014 when Bharati Airtel decided to charge subscribers extra for using social networking applications like Skype, Viber. The service providers provided the argument that these applications were eating into the company’s revenue. But on April 6, 2015, Airtel Zero a programme launched for the Airtel subscribers, under which they could access selected websites and applications, which were already registered with the company, free of cost. The primary benefit occurring from the principle is that it has ensured a level playing field in terms of access to the internet for the content providers, whether they are internet monopolies like google, Facebook or start-ups in the neighborhood. The argument, that social networking sites are eating into the revenues of telecoms is absurd because the revenue foregone as estimated by the telecomes is fictitious and not supported by factual evidence. In essence the proponents of the principle argue that this principle is a vital component to protect the openness of internet. The argument, which were put against the principle of net neutrality was that ISPs argue that it costs billions of dollars for them to purchase spectrum from the government, build optical fibre cable (OFC) networks and other essential infrastructure. Hence as a legitimate supplier of the internet services, similar to logistics service provider in the physical world, they should be authorized to impose differential charges in content providers and consumers on the basis of demands from them to access the internet on a priority basis. So what we can basically conclude is, since our country is suffering from the problem of digital divide such as lower penetration of internet in rural areas compared to that of urban areas, it is imperative for the regulator to keep the openness of the Internet intact and fulfill its responsibility in achieving the objectives of Digital India programme.

Parnam Srivastava
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