Net neutrality is currently one of the most talked topics in the information technology industry with respect to policymaking. The main point of net neutrality is looking at is the unfair treatment meted out to Internet users by Internet Service Providers (ISP). The policy also prevents a situation whereby ISPs would unilaterally penalize traffic from a publisher, author or service.
Before now, the United States has enshrined the Net neutrality policy in their law. This may not be unconnected with the fact that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has already classified all the ISPs operating in the country as “Common Carriers.” This means that ISPs will be regarded and treated just like power and water companies. Net neutrality will prevent them from tampering with internet-related activities like increasing or decreasing the speed of certain traffic.
Also in the United States, the Chairman of FCC, Ajit Pai, recently raised the issue of net neutrality. Ajit argued that if ISPs are allowed to meddle with the internet traffic of consumers, it would enable them to rip customers off and at the end of the day smile to the bank.
In India, supporters of net neutrality are of the view that repealing net neutrality will further give a big internet brands undue advantage over startups, which won’t be healthy for the country’s IT sector.
In view of the heated argument for or against net neutrality, this article will explore the concept of net neutrality, its pros and cons, as well as, take a look at the recent decision by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India regarding the implementation of net neutrality.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Simply put, net neutrality is the concept of giving a level playing ground to all traffic on the internet, regardless of the content of the traffic. Net neutrality ensures that nothing can be blocked, interfered with, as well as, given priority to by the Internet Service Providers. In a bid to ensure that ISPs complies with net neutrality, supporters of the concept have urged the government to regulate the activities on the internet.
Without net neutrality, it would be difficult to prevent Internet Service Providers from limiting Competitors’ traffic, as well as forcing big brands into video streaming like Netflix from paying more for extra bandwidth.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY
Based on how sensitive the concept of net neutrality is, we would now take a look at what the law says in the United States and India.
In the United States, implementation of net neutrality law comes under the Communication Act of 1934. A section in the Act captioned “Title ll” clearly explains the subject of “common carriers”. The Act defines common carrier as any person or entity hired by radio or wire in foreign radio transmission or interstate
In India, net neutrality law came into effect precisely on the 12th of July 2018. Currently, net neutrality has outlawed any form of discrimination on the internet and on cellular data. Any Internet Service Provider that flouts these rules may have their license revoked. However, application of net neutrality on “special services” and “critical IoT services” such as remote surgery operation and autonomous vehicles has not clearly been defined.
Network neutrality debate gathered momentum in India after Airtel announced extra charges in 2014 December in order to make voice calls using its network from applications like Skype and WhatsApp.
Also, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in March 2015 released a draft policy document on Over-the-top services. The agency sought public opinion on net neutrality. There was a diverse opinion at the time. Some internet users hailed the action of TRAI, while some criticized the agency for being biased. Then on the 8th of February 2016, the agency took the decision of prohibiting ISPs for indiscriminately levying internet users for data services, hence paving the way for net neutrality to be domiciled in India.
BENEFITS OF NET NEUTRALITY
The debate on net neutrality is currently waging war not only in India but the rest of the world. In a layman parlance, net neutrality has to do with offering equal treatment to all Internet traffic. Supporters of net neutrality argue that ISPs should have no power to restrict any form of Internet-related activities on their networks. Are you in agreement with the argument of net neutrality? Let’s have a look at the benefits of net neutrality.
The following are the inherent benefits of net neutrality:
- Freedom of speech: Since net neutrality is legal as it were, any website, blog, online medium have access to disseminate any information they deem fit leveraging net neutrality. If not for net neutrality, ISP theoretically would have blocked some online medium for posting content they feel is offensive. In addition, ISPs would have unilaterally shut down any rival company that is performing well. But net neutrality has paved a way for diverse people all over the world to air their views good or bad.
- Net neutrality promotes competition and innovation: Since net neutrality has made it possible for a level playing ground, competition and innovation are healthy on the internet. The rules ensure that big brands do not have an advantage over small-sized companies online. Everything is now delivered to the end users as fast as possible.
- Unfettered Access: Net neutrality also made it possible for Internet fast lane to be squashed, where ISPs would have charged companies providing contents for more bandwidth in order to deliver service to their customers properly. For instance, Google doesn’t pay for quick access to the site. Conversely, video streaming startup should be glitch-free like Netflix.
- Net neutrality prevents service providers from charging customers extra amount for accessing vital services like email, online banking, and gaming networks.
DISADVANTAGES OF NET NEUTRALITY
Despite the inherent benefits that net neutrality offers, it still has some drawback which we should consider. The following are some of the drawbacks:
- Less Network Innovation: Service providers argue that the tremendous increase in services such as content downloads and video streaming will negatively affect their spending on a service upgrade. A survey conducted in 2015 and 2016 showed that investment dropped in 2015 by 2% and further dropped by 3% as soon as net neutrality was enforced.
- Objectionable and porn content thrives: Those that are not in support of net neutrality lamented that age-sensitive content like porn videos are now easily accessible by underage. Although plenty of vendors now allow families to block some contents from their computer, but more underage children now have access to smartphones connected to the Internet without the supervision of an adult. If ISP can adopt the approach of blocking such services, it would go a long way to curb this problem. For instance, in the UK, the Digital Economy Act makes it compulsory for Internet users to verify their identity before accessing porn sites.
- No free internet access: Proponents of less regulation on ISP have called on regulatory authorities to allow ISP to charge big brands before accessing their content. They said it would enable Internet users to enjoy free access to the Internet on some websites. They argue that once ISP starts charging big firms, for example, Netflix, for making use of their infrastructure, then sites like Facebook and Wikipedia could be accessed free of charge.
TRAI’S DECISION ON NET NEUTRALITY IN INDIA
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is the statutory agency in India saddled with the responsibility of regulating the telecommunication industry in the country. On the 8th of February, 2016, the agency imposed a ban on all differential charges on data services provided by telecom service providers. Hence, the ban discontinued Airtel Zero platform and Facebook’s Free mode as it were.
In addition, TRAI made the following ruling:
- Service providers shall no longer charge differential tariffs on data services with respect to content usage.
- Service providers shall not partner with any entity, legal or otherwise, on the basis of offering a reduced charge on data services.
- A reduction in the tariff with respect to providing members of the public with emergency services shall be allowed.
- Fines payable for flouting the rules have clearly been specified
- The agency will after two years review this ruling
Immediately TRAI made the above ruling, Facebook released a statement through its spokesperson. The statement expressed disappointment in the ruling by TRAI and hence assured its users that barriers would be removed in order to bring internet access to the unconnected. Similarly, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, also expressed disappointment in the ruling.
In India, the implementation of net neutrality took effect since the 12th of July, 2018. Currently, net neutrality has outlawed any form of discrimination on the internet and on cellular data. Any Internet Service Provider that flouts these rules may have their license revoked. However, application of net neutrality on “special services” and “critical IoT services” such as remote surgery operation and autonomous vehicles has not clearly been defined.
Since the introduction of the internet in 1990, it has experienced a tremendous growth over the years. This growth may not be unconnected with the protection and freedom inherent in the concept of net neutrality. For instance, if not because of the overwhelming benefits of net neutrality, we doubt if companies like Google, YouTube, eBay, and Amazon would have got to where it is today. Net neutrality has created a level playing ground for all players on the internet. In addition, there are thousands of startups, e-commerce stores, and Internet entrepreneurs that hope to leverage the benefits of net neutrality to achieve a big name like the big brands we all know of.