1) What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the guiding principle of open internet where it is believed that the internet helps us communicate freely online. It means internet service providers should give us open networks and not block or discriminate applications or content that pass through their networks. Just as your mobile service provider shouldn’t decide who you can call and what you can say in your call, your internet service provider too shouldn’t come into the picture of what content you can view, what you cannot or discriminate on what content you can post online.
2) What would happen if we didn’t have it?
Without net neutrality, there is a risk of internet service providers (ISPs) carving the internet into fast and slow lanes. An ISP could slow down its competitors' content or use vested interests to block content or charge extra to other companies to push their content.
3) Why is it important for small businesses?
Net neutrality is important for everyone especially, start-ups, entrepreneurs, small and growing businesses etc. who rely on the Internet to run their businesses. Without it, companies that can pay extra will get preferential treatment while companies who can’t, will be relegated to a slower tier of service. Both, small businesses and customers stand to lose out if ISPs are allowed to interfere and profit from their gatekeeper roles. Like they say, we wouldn’t have another Google if we lose net neutrality.
4) What is happening in India?
Facebook had announced the launch of its ‘zero-rating’ platform (sites where customers won’t have to pay an ISP for internet) called ‘Free Basics’ (earlier called internet.org) in collaboration with Reliance Communications. According to Facebook, Free Basic sites will be open to all and will usher in digital equality, especially for those that can’t afford to pay to access the internet. Activists are fiercely opposing it.
5) What are the warring parties saying?
Activists are saying that zero-rating platforms like Free Basics are in violation of the guiding principle of how the Internet should function. They are also saying that if the underlying objective is digital equality for all, the government should look for alternative methods, instead of differentiated data pricing for providing basic internet access to people for free. Facebook has launched an awareness generation campaign suggesting that Free Basics is non-discriminatory and will actually help more Indians get on the internet.
6) The latest?
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floated a paper in December 2015 on differential data pricing for content services and invited comments and alternative suggestions from members of public. At the last count, over six lakh comments were received. The TRAI will be out with a verdict soon. Reliance has announced that it has put a hold on the launch of ‘Free Basics’ till it gets a nod from the regulatory authority.