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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Open The Internet Please

The Times of India report says "telecom and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad backed an open internet three days ago" which makes one wonder whether the minister really backs open internet or there was some shoddy reporting on part of the Times Group. But let us not get into the semantics now (though I will come back to it eventually), so as not to dilute the issue at hand. The current debate raging on has more to do with the concept of net neutrality, which thanks to the efforts of online activists, seems a certain victory now. If you are unaware of what net neutrality means and why it is under threat, the video created by AIB explains it best.

Also visit savetheinternet.in

After about 800,000 emails shot to TRAI and collective outrage over social media, Internet retailers such as Flipkart Group pulled out off the Airtel Zero platform and media houses like NDTV  from Facebook's Internet.org forcing the government to side with net neutrality advocates. While, it seems the battle for net neutrality is nearly won, we must leave a little room from cynicism. After all, the "Do Not Disturb"  never really worked for me nor was I ever able to prevent myself from being charged for "Value Added Services" I neither opted for nor could easily get unsubscribed from. The latest statement from TRAI chief saying the furore had been sparked off by a ‘ corporate war’ between a media house and a telecom operator, which is ” confounding already difficult matters”  in reality seeks to obfuscate a very simplistic issue and also raise doubts about how TRAI seeks to resolve it.

Now what I find it interesting is that it was Airtel that faced major backlash even though Facebook and Reliance deal on Internet.org  had been going on since some time. The obvious reason is that though both sought to tap into the potential of App-based ecosystem, Airtel's deal with online retailers and services directly affected the consumers bringing the exploitative practises into notice. I am not in any way implying that there is anything elitist in net neutrality campaign, it is very much a principle driven mass activism to ensure that access to the Internet remains free from interference by telcos and ISPs. All I am trying to say is that there still remain arrangements that escape scrutiny of users in all license regimes, perhaps TRAI's final ruling should also be given closer attention so that ambiguities that mask these practices are detected while there is time.

Further, I have mentioned "apps-based ecosystem" above but that was mainly in reference  to  e-commerce and Internet businesses in their various avatars. True, mobile web browsers and search services are apps too but they also act as gateway to the entire Internet and World Wide Web , some components of which may be available in apps but strictly do not fall in the domain of the "apps ecosystem".  The debate on net neutrality in the US began after allegations of some ISPs slowing down speed of peer-to-peer communication, BitTorrent, the US Federal Communications Commission ( FCC ) ruled in favour of BitTorrent. However, intermittent blocking of peer-to-peer communication services are regular in India especially when they inadvertently end up challenging corporates. For instance, during FIFA World Cup 2014, Sony went to court to block 472 (which was later reduced 219) websites to preserve its commercial interest threatened by these sites allegedly making the matches available online (previous Court orders stipulate blocking of specific URLs).
However, the blocking of these websites continued even after the World Cup was over, though not all ISPs  have continued blocking them.

Coming back to the concept of Open Internet, the Wikipedia defines it as

The idea of an open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some as closely related to open-source software  
When it comes to Internet censorship in India, Google Transparency Report presents an interesting picture. From 2010 to December 2013 there has been a steady rise in Government of India requesting Google to remove content.

Screenshot of Google Transparency Report on India
Do note the above chart represents data upto Dec 2013 only, instances like the new government demanding Youtube to pull down BBC documentary India's Daughter haven't made to the list. Free speech advocates opine that Internet censorship has lately increased substantially.  If the telecom and information technology minister really backs "Open Internet", now would be a good time to make his stand clearer on open standards, transparency and Internet censorship in India.