What is Net Neutrality?

Withe Net Neutrality row, here are some basics about what it is and how it benefits or belies our faith in rule of law in Internet era.
* The expression “network neutrality” was coined by American academic Tim Wu in his paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination that came out in 2003 and he then popularised the concept.

  • What does net neutrality stand for? Net neutrality means that governments and internet service providers should treat all data on the internet equally – therefore, not charging users, content, platform, site, application or mode of communication differentially.
  • Who benefits from net neutrality? The end customers.

  • How the debate began in India? Telecom service provider Bharti Airtel, towards the end of 2014, decided to charge subscribers extra for use of applications like Skype and Viber (these are also known as over-the-top services), which created a lot of uproar and the telco finally stayed its decision.

  • In February 2015, Reliance Communications, a part of the Anil Ambani-led group, was roped in by Facebook to offer free access to data and websites to customers through the social networking site’s Internet.org global digital inclusion initiative.

  • In April 2015, Bharti Airtel launched Airtel Zero, an open marketing platform that will allow customers to access mobile applications at zero data charges.

  • Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday that a panel examining the issue will submit its report by the second week of May to help the government take a comprehensive decision on the contentious issue.

  • In March 2015, telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released a paper inviting comments from users and companies on how over-the-top services should be regulated in the country, seeking stakeholders’ suggestions by April 24, 2015, and counter-arguments by May 8, 2015.

  • E-commerce giant Flipkart on April 14, 2015, walked away from Airtel Zero as it is committed to “the larger cause of net neutrality”.

  • Bharti Airtel clarified its position saying there is a misconception about its Airtel Zero service. It is not a tariff proposition but an open-marketing platform that allows any application or content provider to offer its service on a toll-free basis to customers who are on the Airtel network.

  • Batting for net neutrality, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said on April 15, 2015, that Internet.org can co-exist with the stand. On April 17, 2015, he defended his position and said some people have criticised the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, adding that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. “I strongly disagree with this.”

  • On April 15, 2015, The Times Group said it is committed to withdraw from Internet.org and appealed to fellow publishers to follow suit and support net neutrality.


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