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Enforcing Net Neutrality: A continuous monitoring challenge

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NEW DELHI: Participants at a discussion on net neutrality feel that the Department of Telecom’s (DoT) recommendations on the subject are ‘soft approaches’ for bigger violations that impact principles of Net Neutrality.

Furthermore, it was felt that there seem to be no recommendations on quantum of penalty or punishments in case of deliberate violations on Net Neutrality.   

The Indian Legal Foundation (TILF) - a New Delhi based Think Tank organization - in association with Grandmasters India conducted the Brainstorming and Forum Discussion focusing on the various aspects of Net Neutrality with participants from corporates, government, politics, NGOs and startups.

Even as the DoT panel lead by A K Bhargava released its report on Net Neutrality, there still remained concerns among the free Internet proponents about the enforcement of principles of Net Neutrality.

The DoT panel suggestions on enforcing Net Neutrality included enacting a law, amending licensing conditions, creating a DoT monitoring cell and also creating training institutions to monitor Net Neutrality violations.

 “While we appreciate the overall intent of DoT report, but where does it talk about penalties, like we saw in the recent AT&T case in United States,” asked TILF chairperson, government affairs Renu Jha.

Jha further said, “We need to create a regulatory body with powers to impose fine and punishments. It is a necessary step towards creating and regulating Net Neutrality in India.”

While welcoming DoT recommendations, Samsung general counsel Rajendra Sharma said, “There still needs to be a lot of work in creating an appropriate legislation around the governance of Internet in India. We need to incorporate best practices from EU and United States to ensure freedom of Internet in India.”

The Think Tank Event was presided over by Member of Parliament and mediaperson Tarun Vijay, who is among the most vocal proponents of free Internet in India and has equated net neutrality to Human Rights of Digital Age. 

“Net Neutrality is core and essential to the government programme on skill development, Digital India and Make In India. Government and Indian parliament is committed to Net Neutrality. Any apprehension on recent DoT recommendation will be debated and government will fight for democracy of Internet,” said Vijay.

The event was also marked by a number of startups concerned about their growth in case telcos are allowed to disseminate discriminatory tariffs or bandwidth to users.

“Will it not be a classic case of crony capitalism if startup applications are discriminated as they are unable to cuff up extra bug for telcos,” asked Yogesh Kochar, a social media start up for school students in India. Agreeing with young startup entrepreneurs, Jha stated, “India is hub of startups for quality software and mobile applications. Any pricing or accessibility discrimination against newer applications by Telcos will certainly kill their growth and stifle innovation.”

The Government’s hypothesis needs to be supported – “Good” regulations are better than “No” regulations at all. We do not want Indian Government or DoT to be silent on this important subject. If they remain silent and do not positively support Net Neutrality, ISPs on a later date can disrupt access to websites that do not pay them or compete with their interests. Indeed, the survival of Internet depends on DoT and Government of India and it’s implementation and enforcement of principles of Net Neutrality.

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