Net Neutrality in India, and the ongoing battle to save the free and open internet

9 February 2018 Brown Bag with journalist, activist Nikhil Pahwa

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Ten years ago, if you told Nikhil Pahwa that he would one day organize a grassroots campaign to save net neutrality in India, he would probably have a hard time believing you. In 2003, Pahwa started as a blog writer, slowly working his way up until 2008 when he created the mobile and digital news portal Medianama. At the cost of 500 rupees, Pahwa was able to buy the domain name and create a site that now monitors the ever-changing policies of digital and telecom businesses across India.

JOINING THE FIGHT

In 2012, after two girls were arrested for their comments made on Facebook Pahwa became more engaged with freedom of speech and the internet. When net neutrality began to be threatened in 2014, Pahwa knew what had to be done to save the internet. By creating a grassroots campaign, Pahwa and his colleagues kept people informed on the risks of net neutrality, as well as gave them a platform to make their voices heard. Not only did they give voice to millions of people, but the campaign was structured in a way that made it apolitical. As Pahwa put it, “We created a climate where no political parties would be opposed to net neutrality. This created a more unified cause.”

A LIMITED INTERNET, IS NO INTERNET AT ALL

When Facebook came around with their Free Basics program, it was time for another campaign to keep the internet free and unlimited. Through the implementation of Free Basics, Facebook would be able to control and approve which websites the people of India had free access to.

In regard to Free Basics limiting the access of the internet, Pahwa was asked if it would be better to have limited access (to the internet) of no internet at all? He offered this simple response: “If you only give access to a few sites, that’s not the internet.”

By giving access to pre-approved websites, Facebook becomes the access pipeline; it limits the creative power of its users.

THE FIGHT CONTINUES

Despite support from volunteers, private companies, and even a few helpful comedians Pahwa and his colleagues are still fighting to keep the internet free and unlimited in India.

“Whatever we have (created) now is because of the openness of the internet,” Pahwa stated. When the internet is limited, so too are our creative possibilities.

Eva is a graduate of Simmons College and a new writer for digital HKS with a fondness for comedy podcasts.