What is net neutrality?

The basic principle of net neutrality is that the nobody owns the internet and it is free and open to all. In simple terms, just because the service provider has built a network where the content flows, it does not mean that it can have a say in how the network will be used. Internet service providers must treat all internet traffic equally, without any regard to the type, origin or destination of the content or the means of its transmission. There can be no discrimination, restriction or interference in the treatment of content.

What is India’s stand on this issue?

India has maintained a pro-consumer stand. The debate on net neutrality here started after Facebook launched the Free Basics programme in December 2015, which offered free access to basic internet services to users. Though Facebook wasn’t charging users anything extra, the idea of favouring access to certain content went against the basic principle of net neutrality. Trai banned Free Basics and similar services in 2016. Its recommendations to the govt, sent in November, were accepted on Wednesday.

Why is net neutrality so important?

Without it, a service provider could make it harder for users to access parts of the internet to drive more traffic to preferred platforms.

What are the global norms for net neutrality?

Last month, the US repealed net neutrality rules put in place by the Barack Obama administration and providers are now permitted to block, slow down or speed up access to some websites. Meanwhile, EU has implemented a regulation to ensure net neutrality. The EU and India have also signed a joint statement to promote an open internet. Since net neutrality is always evolving, the tie-up is significant.

How will this affect the industry?

Net neutrality is crucial for innovation, competition and the end consumer. It provides a level playing field to content providers and start-ups. Otherwise, start-ups which don’t have resources to pay for ‘faster lanes’ will lose out to cash-rich rivals. There is also a worry that the US regulator’s move to end net neutrality could trigger a domino effect and may encourage service providers in other countries to lobby regulators.

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