20 Key Milestones In India's Net Neutrality Journey

by CXOtoday News Desk    Feb 09, 2016

net neutrality

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), on Monday, ruled that differential pricing for data services will not be allowed in the country. TRAI’s revolutionary decision, prohibiting telecom service providers from levying discriminatory rates for data, thus ruling in favor of Net Neutrality in India, has brought cheers to millions of Indians - internet crusaders, business leaders, political parties, and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee.

However, as TRAI’s decision effectively indicates that Facebook’s Free Basics and other zero-rating platforms, where access to some websites and content provided for free, will no longer be permitted. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had personally defended Free Basics, said that he is disappointed with TRAI’s decision, but added that they will keep working to connect more people to the Internet.

Here’s a look at some of the key milestones in the history of Net Neutrality in India.

February 2014: The debate on network neutrality in India gathered public attention after Gopal Vittal, CEO of Airtel’s India operations, said that companies offering free messaging apps like Skype, Line and Whatsapp should be regulated similar to telecom operators.

August 2014: TRAI rejected a proposal from telecom companies to make messaging application firms share part of their revenue with the carriers or the government.

October 2014: Vodafone India Marten Pieters CEO suggested that companies like Facebook and Whatsapp should be taxed to ensure a level playing field with telecom operators.

November 2014: TRAI began investigating if Airtel was implementing preferential access by offering special Internet packs which allowed WhatsApp and Facebook data at rates which were lower than its standard data rates.

December 2014: Telecom service provider, Airtel India, announced additional charges for making voice calls (VoIP) from its network using apps like WhatsApp, Skype, etc. The TRAI chief Rahul Khullar said that Airtel cannot be held responsible for violating net neutrality because India has no regulation that demands net neutrality. Airtel’s move faced criticism on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

10 February 2015: Facebook launched Internet.org in India with Reliance Communications. It said that it aims to provide free access to 38 websites through an app. Only Bing was made available as the search engine. Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Airtel, criticised the concept and said, “If you are going to make the data free, then let’s do completely philanthropic projects. Government must make spectrum free, there should be free network, but it is not happening.”

27 March 2015: 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 received condemnation from various politicians and Indian Internet users. The last date for submission of comment was 24 April 2015 and TRAI received over a million emails.

6 April 2015: Airtel announced the “Airtel Zero” scheme. Under the scheme, app firms sign a contract and Airtel provides the apps for free to its customers. The reports of Flipkart, an e-commerce firm, joining the “Airtel Zero” scheme drew negative response. People began to give the one-star rating to its app on Google Play.

11 April 2015: A YouTube comedy channel All India Bakchod uploaded a video titled “Save The Internet” which urged people to email TRAI demanding net neutrality. The video was re-shared on Twitter by numerous times, including by some Indian actors. Cleartrip.com, the Times Group, NewsHunt and NDTV pulled out of the Facebook initiated Internet.org expressing their support for net neutrality. However, Mark Zuckerberg defended Internet.org in an interview to Hindustan Times saying, “Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. We will never prevent people accessing other services, and we will not use fast lanes.

16 April 2015: the Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik, also wrote an letter to TRAI supporting net neutrality. Other politicians who came out in support of net neutrality were Rahul Gandhi, Rajeev Chandrasekha, Ajay Maken and Tarun Vijay.

23 April 2015: Various organizations under the ambit of Free Software Movement of India organized protests in various cities across India. Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu organized a protest march at Besant Nagar Beach.. Free Software Movement of Karnataka organized a protest march from National Games Village to Forum Mall in Bangalore.

14 April 2015: Following the protests Flipkart decided to pull out of Airtel Zero. The e-commerce firm confirmed the news in an official statement on 14 April, saying, “We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero”. The Communication and IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said that a committee will be formed to study the net neutrality issue.

27 April 2015: Members of the Anonymous India group claimed that they had taken down TRAI’s official website, trai.gov.in, using a DDoS attack in retaliation for TRAI’s release of PDF files containing the names and emails of more than a million people who commented on the “Regulatory Framework for OTT services” paper. However, officials from the IT Ministry could not confirm it and said the website was down most likely due to high traffic. TRAI was criticized for violating the privacy of the respondents by making their emails public along with email ids, as it exposed them to the wide internet thus potentially grabbing eyeballs of spammers.

9 December 2015:TRAI brings out a consultation paper on differential pricing of data services and invited public comments to be sent by December 30, 2015.  The paper discusses issues related to differential tariff plans of the Telecom Service providers (TSPs) who offer zero or discounted tariffs to content of certain websites/ applications/platforms.

17 December 2015: Facebook starts an aggressive Rs 300 crore ‘Free basics’ campaign, flaunting advertisements across newspapers, TV and outdoor media.

28 December 2015: Founders and CEOs of nine start-ups, including Paytm, Zomato and GoQii, wrote to TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma pitching for an open Internet while seeking “clear regulations” on the issue of differential pricing for data services.

30 December 2015: Industry bodies IAMAI and Nasscom oppose blanket differential pricing. Mark Zuckerberg reaches out to entrepreneurs for help.

13 January 2016: Releasing number of responses received through ‘facebookmail.com and @supportfreebasics.in’, TRAI said only 1.89 million had responded against Facebook’s January 6 claim of more than 11 million supporting its plan to make parts of the Internet available for free under ‘free basics’.

19 January 2016: attempt to lobby for its Free Basics initiative a “crude” attempt at turning the consultation over differential pricing of data services into an “orchestrated opinion poll” on Free Basics. Facebook had partnered with Reliance Communications in India to offer Free Basics service. However, the services were put in abeyance,

21 January 2016: TRAI firms up its view on Net Neutrality and differential pricing of data services and will come out with its stand by the end of this month. An open-house discussion on differential pricing of data services, saw huge participation from telecom operators, consumer rights groups, industry bodies and individuals.

8 February 2016: TRAI took a revolutionary decision, prohibiting telecom service providers from levying discriminatory rates for data, thus ruling in favor of Net Neutrality in India. This move was welcomed by not just by millions of Indians but also by various political parties, businesspersons, industry leaders, and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee. Crusaders for Net Neutrality who set up savetheinternet.in and netneutrality.in were elated at this news.

(Source: Wikipedia, Agencies)