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The internet has revamped the global economy by designing a new model of business and a channel for businesses to flourish. New and small businesses are able to connect to a vast network of potential consumers, with a new application and content-based businesses rising up in the internet economy. However, the clash between application based businesses and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) has led to the need for net neutrality.
Net Neutrality means the internet is provided to the masses with an open network, with no distinction or discrimination between applications or content viewed on the network. Net neutrality is based on the principle that the ISP must treat all data usage equally, without charging users differently for the websites visited, the content read, and platform or application used.
In absence of net neutrality, network companies have a free monopoly to divide the internet into different lanes, where streaming on the website is faster than the other. The ISP has complete authority to block or slow down the content of a competitor, giving them ultimate power to decide what users are able to view.
Net neutrality also incorporates the idea of treating all data normally when it comes to speed, access and expenses. Without net neutrality, the ISPs can downgrade other companies, with the predilection to companies who are willing to pay extra fees. Preferential treatment in streaming of content violates the very principle of an open internet as it changes and breaks its fabric by allowing certain companies to post their content through faster lanes than other businesses.
Net Neutrality in India
In India, Airtel decided to charge extra for Internet Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like WhatsApp. Airtel planned to come up with Airtel Zero, that would have allowed companies to pay some fees to Airtel so that users could access their apps for free. However, after facing retaliation by masses on social media, the company withdrew its decision. Other companies like Vodafone and Telenor have publicly spoken against the concept of net neutrality in India.
The initial debate over net neutrality in India started with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) releasing a consultation paper in March. 2015 on Over-the-Top (OTT) services. The question whether telecom companies like Vodafone, Airtel, etc. have the authority to charge users for using applications like Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, etc., was a part of this paper.
The paper also questioned whether throttling of certain traffic is acceptable or not. Throttling means limiting the traffic which is heavier on the internet and consume more bandwidth as compared to other traffic. Throttling is argued to be in favour of users who have limited use of the internet, as it prevents disproportionate use of bandwidth over an open network by some users.
There is no legislation in India to deal with the issue of net neutrality. The TRAI Guidelines on Unified Access Service License merely promote net neutrality in India. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is also silent on companies throttling their service in accordance with their business interests.
Small businesses and startups rely predominantly on the social media platforms and other online portals to launch and promote their business. They require open internet to advertise their products and services and deliver them to consumers. Open network increases the chances of job opportunity and innovation by diminishing the restrictions on the entry of new businesses and ensuring fair competition. With no net neutrality, freedom of speech and expression could be jeopardised and small businesses would never get a chance to grow.
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