India Trumps the Net Neutrality Debate! TRAI Harder USA


India Trumps the Net Neutrality Debate! TRAI Harder USA

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

The Telecom Authority of India (TRAI) might have actually given us a reason to justify all the patriotism we’re supposed to be feeling these days. Earlier today, the Centre accepted the TRAI’s recommendations to keep the Indian internet open by not blocking, throttling, or “fast-laning” any content delivery services that were announced last year. This basically means that no one person can own the internet. Hear that, Zuckerberg? You may kindly bugger off now.

Three years ago, Facebook tried to casually take over the internet by offering faster internet to people who had only 2G connections, at no extra cost. It seemed like a great offer, so of course, it came with a catch: the implication that Facebook would be allowed to favour certain websites over others, ensuring that Facebook itself would open much faster than a competitor. Airtel, which has paraphrased Vodafone’s tagline into a business model — wherever the money goes, we follow — attempted to jump in on this trend of silently fucking over the internet with Airtel Zero.

Both of these schemes went against the grain of net neutrality, the idea that all data on the internet is treated equally regardless of the influence of the platform or the user. Both were banned in India. This needs to be celebrated.

What should have us most chuffed is that for a change, we seem to be more progressive than our counterparts around the globe. A country that really needs to look into the Indian judgment is the United States of America, which recently rolled back net neutrality rules out of fears that heavy regulations will slow down the rate of broadband expansion. This is a move that will leave consumers having to choose between pretty basic applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Imagine the horror of having no one to message on just one app instead of two.

Another implication of the American judgment could be crippling in India. The regulations abroad basically allow internet providers to degrade internet speeds unless certain companies pay more. So if Vodafone decides it hates this website, you’d probably have a hard time accessing it on a Vodafone internet package. This ruins competition at the most basic level and destroys hope of a start-up ever reaching YouTube levels again.  

Luckily, as per the Indian order, and the TRAI’s recommendations last year, the Internet has been deemed a public utility and not a luxury. So telecom companies can neither control the content people access nor the speed at which the traffic flows. They telecom authority had proposed a ₹50 lakh fine for this, an amount Vodafone alone might have cheated me of, but a hefty amount nonetheless.

Meanwhile, what America is risking, is creating an unequal internet for rich and poor people. Learn from us, America, you don’t need any more inequality.

Just look at our friends over in Portugal, where the internet has been split up into different packages like it’s some kind of new Tata Sky scheme. People there are expected to pay a nominal fee for a basic service (like Google for instance), after which they can add on another five options every month for $6, divided between different tiers — “messaging”, “social,” and “video”.

Despite these warning signs, and several campaigns by Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, AirBnB, and hundreds of other web-based services, the US went ahead with its plan. Thankfully, we didn’t have to put up much of a fight. Today, we can officially boast about having one of the best internets in the world. And we don’t even need a UNESCO certification for it.