Issue It is about net neutrality debate.
What is net neutrality? Net neutrality is an idea derived from how telephone lines have worked since the beginning of the 20th century.
How did net neutrality shape the internet? Net neutrality has shaped the internet in two fundamental ways.
What will happen if there is no net neutrality? If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it.
Background A pre-consultation paper on Net neutrality is now floating around.
What are over-the-top services? OTT or ‘over-the-top’ services are usually those delivered using the Internet.
What is differential pricing for data services Differential pricing or zero rating is a practice where service providers offer free data to users for select applications and websites.
Effect of successful net neutrality campaign in India? The response of Indian citizens to zero-rated has emerged as one of the talking, even rallying, points for a similar campaign in Germany.
Difference between consultation of India and Europe Unlike the Indian consultations which focussed only on zero-rated applications, the EU law is comprehensive.
Where India comes in The Indian campaign as well as the U.S. guidelines featured prominently as the “new hope for Europe”.
Global Impact EU remains a major trading partner for most regions, and an adverse Internet law could affect fair competition and establish monopolies.
- It is about net neutrality debate.
- Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has launched a public consultation to interpret the new Net neutrality law passed in October 2015. It is important because European guidelines will have impact all over the globe.
What is net neutrality?
- Net neutrality is an idea derived from how telephone lines have worked since the beginning of the 20th century. In case of a telephone line, we can dial any number and connect to it. It does not matter if we are calling from operator A to operator B. It doesn’t matter if we are calling a restaurant or a drug dealer. The operators neither block the access to a number nor deliberately delay connection to a particular number, unless forced by the law. Most of the countries have rules that ask telecom operators to provide an unfiltered and unrestricted phone service.
- When the internet started to take off in 1980s and 1990s, there were no specific rules that asked that internet service providers (ISPs) should follow the same principle. But, mostly because telecom operators were also ISPs, they adhered to the same principle. This principle is known as net neutrality. An ISP does not control the traffic that passes its servers. When a web user connects to a website or web service, he or she gets the same speed. Data rate for Youtube videos and Facebook photos is theoretically same. Users can access any legal website or web service without any interference from an ISP.
- Some countries have rules that enforce net neutrality but most don’t. Instead, the principle is followed because that is how it has always been. It is more of a norm than a law.
How did net neutrality shape the internet?
Net neutrality has shaped the internet in two fundamental ways.
- One, web users are free to connect to whatever website or service they want. ISPs do not bother with what kind of content is flowing from their servers. This has allowed the internet to grow into a truly global network and has allowed people to freely express themselves. For example, we can criticize our ISP on a blog post and the ISP will not restrict access to that post for its other subscribers even though the post may harm its business.
- But more importantly, net neutrality has enabled a level playing field on the internet. To start a website, we don’t need lot of money or connections. Just host our website and we are good to go. If our service is good, it will find favour with web users. Unlike the cable TV where we have to forge alliances with cable connection providers to make sure that your channel reaches viewers, on internet we don’t have to talk to ISPs to put your website online.
- This has led to creation Google, Facebook, Twitter and countless other services. All of these services had very humble beginnings. They started as a basic websites with modest resources. But they succeeded because net neutrality allowed web users to access these websites in an easy and unhindered way.
What will happen if there is no net neutrality?
- If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power (and inclination) to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it. For example, several ISPs believe that they should be allowed to charge companies for services like YouTube and Netflix because these services consume more bandwidth compared to a normal website. Basically, these ISPs want a share in the money that YouTube or Netflix make.
- Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it will not exist. Instead of free access, there could be “package plans” for consumers. For example, if you pay Rs 500, you will only be able to access websites based in India. To access international websites, we may have to pay a more. Or maybe there can be different connection speed for different type of content; depending on how much we are paying for the service and what “add-on package” we have bought.
- Lack of net neutrality, will also spell doom for innovation on the web. It is possible that ISPs will charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may see that their websites will open slowly. This means bigger companies like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube or Google+ faster for web users but a startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.
- A pre-consultation paper on Net neutrality is now floating around, with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India seeking comments by June 21.
- This follows on the heels of asking for stakeholder views on over-the-top services, differential pricing for data services, and on other issues related to Net neutrality.
- The buzz surrounding Net neutrality is not confined to Indian shores; the ripples of an unexpectedly successful campaign for Net neutrality in India have caused ripples in Europe too.
What are over-the-top services?
- OTT or ‘over-the-top’ services are usually those delivered using the Internet and not depending on the service provider. For example OTT messaging apps like WhatsApp. OTT messaging apps have been growing in popularity over the years, often at the cost of traditional SMS thus causes loss in revenue to service provider.
What is differential pricing for data services
- Differential pricing or zero rating is a practice where service providers offer free data to users for select applications and websites, for example, Facebook’s Free Basics. We can access a select number of websites for free, but if you want to browse more or different websites are not part of the pool, you will be asked to pay for it.
- It is against net neutrality as already established entities like Facebook will be in advantageous position by having agreement with an ISP provider while startup or small entity will not be able to do that.
Effect of successful net neutrality campaign in India?
- As the European Union embarks on a public consultation process on Net neutrality, the response of Indian citizens to zero-rated apps i.e. the concept of certain applications, such as Facebook’s Internet.org, being provided free to customers, has emerged as one of the talking, even rallying, points for a similar campaign in Germany.
Difference between consultation of India and Europe
- Unlike the Indian consultations which focussed only on zero-rated applications, the EU law is comprehensive in tackling two other major challenges of Net neutrality: specialised services, which enable faster access to certain applications which have tie-ups with Internet providers, and traffic management, which allows Internet providers to peruse data and decide which Internet traffic is important and which is not, rather than the current system of equal distribution.
Where India comes in
- At this year’s Re:publica, one of the largest conferences on digital rights in Europe, held in Berlin in May, the Indian campaign as well as the U.S. guidelines featured prominently as the “new hope for Europe”.
- According to many experts the emphatic ‘no’ heard in Indian public consultations for zero-rating — which was marketed as giving the poor ‘some Internet’ instead of ‘no Internet’ — is a lesson for Western politicians who are “worried” about stopping free zero-rated services. The Indian response is remarkable, because they saw this as affecting their start-ups and local voices. There was a huge mobilisation, and in the end, the Indian regulatory came up with a nuanced version of zero-rating legislation. It is considered as model for European also.
- If the Indian zero-rating guidelines can be a model for Europe, then faulty European guidelines can set in motion a worrying global domino (Chain Reaction), particularly in the developing and least developed country.
- Till now, in terms of digital rights and data protection, the EU has been setting standards far beyond its own regional reach, especially in places where democracies are still in the process of elaborating their constitutional and legislative systems. If the EU falters, it would give many governments of Africa and Asia that seek control over the Internet a helping hand.
- Moreover, EU remains a major trading partner for most regions, and an adverse Internet law could affect fair competition and establish monopolies.
- India, which figures on top in the plans of Internet companies which are scrambling to provide internet to every Indian, may well have to learn from the European legislation.
- Discussions on specialised services and Internet traffic management are yet to be resolved. Only the first few battles have been won, making it prudent for India to keep an eye on Europe over the coming months.