Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality

This article deals with ‘ Net Neutrality.’ This is part of our series on ‘Science and Technology’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

Net Neutrality was in the news because

  • Federal Communication Commission of USA decided to END Net Neutrality. 
  • TRAI upheld net neutrality in India. 
  • Countries like Chile have made laws to protect Net Neutrality.
  • / Free Basics of Facebook was in the news. 

Concept of Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is derived from how telephone lines have worked since the inception. In the case of telephone, whether a person is calling a government office or restaurant or school or drug seller, the Operator cant deliberately delays the call or block the access, unless forced by the law.  

View it using another example. Internet acts as a road for websites and apps to reach their customers. Presently, there is the same road for all websites whether it is giant like Facebook or any other site. But in case of its absence, giants like Facebook, Youtube etc can pay ISPs to reserve the fastest lane of the road for them so that they can reach their customers at a higher speed.

Net Neutrality

In the 1990s, when the internet started to gain popularity, no rules were specifying that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have to follow these rules but since Telecom Operators were ISPs they extended this principle to Internet Services as well. This came to be known as Net Neutrality.

Hence, ISP can not control the traffic that passes its servers. When a web user connects to a website or any web service, he or she should get the same speed. The data rate for Youtube videos and should be theoretically the same. 

In simple language, every packet of data should be charged & considered the same whether it is used for any purpose & the user can be charged only for the volume of data packets.

For a system to be Net Neutral, it should satisfy three conditions –  

  1. For every type of surfing, there should be the same speed. 
  2. To use a specific site or application there should be no separate charges. 
  3. Access to any site or application should not be given free of cost. 

Side Topic: Internet Fast Lanes

  • Internet fast lanes will enable Internet providers to make deals with certain companies to give preferred access to their services, thereby hampering the principle of equality.
  • This practice could potentially restrict the growth of Startups and strengthen illegal monopolies. 

How Net Neutrality Shapes the Internet ?

  • Level Playing Field: Net Neutrality has created a level playing field for all players irrespective of their size and money power on the internet. To start a website or any web service, a person doesn’t need a lot of capital (the idea is more important).  If the service is good, it will automatically attract users.
  • Net Neutrality is the main reason why companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. have been able to challenge earlier web giants like Oracle, IBM etc. despite their modest resources in the beginning.  

If there is no net neutrality  then??

There are a large number of implications:-

  • ISPs will have the power and inclination to shape internet traffic. They can give free access or fast access to certain websites to give them extra leverage. 
  • It can end in the monopoly of old giants.  
  • It will also spell doom for innovation on the web. This will create an unlevel playing field for start-ups and small players in the business.
  • The right to receive information from diverse media resources is included in Right to Freedom of Speech (Supreme Court in Indian Express Newspapers vs Union of India (1985)).

Arguments against net neutrality in India 

  • Government auctions only limited amounts of spectrum and create artificial scarcity forcing companies to pay huge amounts to acquire spectrum. Hence, Companies are right to charge differently for the usage of different bandwidths.
  • To increase investment in Broadband infrastructure, Net Neutrality regulations need to be relaxed so that ISPs can charge companies like Netflix (This argument was given by the Federal Communication Commission of the US).
  • These services are hardly used by India’s poor and end up slowing down access to the basic services that less economically privileged citizens need more. 
  • Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web did not patent it so the world could benefit.

AK Bhargava Committee Recommendations (2017)

  • The committee accepted the principle of Net Neutrality. 
  • But opined that there is not a single standard definition of Net Neutrality. 
  • We need a proper regulatory mechanism wrt Net Neutrality in India and for that TRAI should take appropriate steps. 

TRAI Guidelines

  • It upheld Net Neutrality.  
  • TRAI also felt the need for a watchdog for enforcing Net Neutrality.

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