You have to hand one thing to this government. It seems to have the ability to sense the mood of the people faster than a seismograph senses an earthquake. The verdict was clear when it was announced: free speech reigns on the internet in India; albeit with the necessary disclaimers. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act breathed its last a while back. Section 66A, whose stated purpose was to fight spammers, prescribed a prison sentence for anyone who sends an electronically transmitted message that “caused annoyance”; to be precise, three years in prison for posting offensive statements online. During its long-lived reign of terror Section, 66A was flagrantly misused by politicians, whose fragile egos had been punctured and by anyone whose ‘sentiments’ had been hurt. Amongst the victims of the section included Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, who had protested Bal Thackeray’s funeral bandh.
However, not all politicians get offended so easily. Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had earlier said that regardless of whatever the Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI) does on the net neutrality issue, the final decision is going to be that of the central government. It has further clarified that they have also set proper licensing conditions when they allot licences to any telecom service operator. The government had further stipulated the terms and conditions that are mentioned in the licence itself. Hopefully the government’s new framework on net neutrality would probably attempt to reclassify broadband internet service as a “telecommunications service”, a legal category that means it will be regulated like a public utility. This does not directly protect network neutrality, but it provides a new and stronger legal foundation for strong network neutrality rules. These new rules will hopefully also attempt to prohibit broadband providers from blocking legal content or applications online, or from giving some content better treatment than others. The rules should ideally apply both to residential broadband service and also to wireless internet access provided to smartphones.
Critics argue that requiring networks to treat all traffic the same could discourage beneficial innovation by network owners. For example, some applications (such as voice calling and online games) are particularly sensitive to delays in delivering data. Internet users might benefit if they could pay a premium to ensure that these applications are given priority. But strict network neutrality rules could bar ISPs from experimenting with this kind of service. Today Net neutrality got a further boost and backing from the government. Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) today said the department of telecommunications view that ‘zero rated’ platforms violate net neutrality principles, even before net neutrality is defined in India, could impact the ongoing consultation paper on the issue. The debate on net neutrality is far from over.