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Net Neutrality: TRAI receives a million mails, Indians awaits judgment day

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MUMBAI: One of the largest mass movements online in India came to an end as we crossed the 24 April, 2015 deadline day to send online responses to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The Net Neutrality debate began after Indian telecom operators lobbied to TRAI to change certain rules as per their convenience, which would have a direct impact on the consumer’s pocket. TRAI, in response to the telecos on 27 March, released a 118-page long consultation bulletin, which concluded by asking 20 questions. The last date to respond to that bulletin electronically was 24 April, 2015 while all the counter responses could be sent till 8 May, 2015.

From 27 March to 24 April there have been certain incidents, which managed to ruffle quite a few big feathers. Many came on record to make a statement.

Some of the major developments throughout the net neutrality debate tenure are as follows:

All India Bakchod (AIB) Video

AIB’s video conveyed the message - “Internet is not a luxury but a utility” and the video ended with a link (www.netneutrality.in), which directed people to the net neutrality home page where all of TRAI’s 20 questions were answered in detail. One could send an email with the pre-written answers by a single click or could edit the replies and send it as well. The video saw the Internet savvy youth getting into action and a complex concept like net neutrality spread through word of mouth as thousands of mails were sent to the Authority.

Net Neutrality Website

www.netneutrality.in: After AIB’s video, thousands of people came to the website and mailed TRAI with the pre-written responses. The website also posted all the developments that were happening around the topic, tweets of dignitaries and most importantly the number of mails that were sent. The website also shared their perception which read, “The Internet's success in fostering innovation, access to knowledge and freedom of speech is in large part due to the principle of net neutrality — the idea that Internet service providers give their customers equal access to all lawful websites and services on the Internet, without giving priority to any website over another.”

Internet.Org Backout

Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative, which aims to bring five billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm. In India, Facebook partnered with Reliance Communications to provide free Internet access to 33 websites as part of its Internet.org initiative, which came under controversy and raised quite a few eyebrows with free Internet activists saying that it violated the idea of net neutrality. Major participants like Flipkart, Cleartrip, NDTV and Times Network, which had earlier joined this initiative, opted out later as the Net Neutrality debate gathered momentum in India.

NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy tweeted, “NDTV is committed to Net Neutrality and is therefore exiting, and will not be part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative.”

Mark Zukerberg’s letter

Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg wrote a note justifying the Internet.org initiative. It read, “In many countries, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The Internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity. This is why we created Internet.org, our effort to connect the whole world. By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, Internet.org offers free access in local languages to basic Internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. Internet.org lowers the cost of accessing the Internet and raises the awareness of the Internet’s value. It helps include everyone in the world’s opportunities.”

He further added, “We fully support Net neutrality. We want to keep the Internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open Internet, and we are fully committed to it. But Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — Net neutrality and universal connectivity — can and must coexist.”

TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar’s statement

“There are passionate voices on both sides of the debate. And if that was not enough, there’s a corporate war going on between a media house and a telecom operator, which is confounding already difficult matters,” Khullar told The Indian Express. “They have a moral anchor… Equally, there are others on the opposite side. But there are many others in between that one should not ignore despite the passionate nature of the debate between the two extremes. We need a democratic debate on the issue, not shrill voices,” he added

Sabka Internet Campaign

The battle for net neutrality in India saw an interesting twist after the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) launched a campaign called Sabka Internet. The Sabka Internet initiative was launched to counter the net neutrality campaign. The campaign communicated the positives of the zero Internet venture, where one gets whatever they pay for.

Million Mail Mission

In a span of 12 days, a million emails were sent and the ‘million mails’ mission of Netneutrality.in was accomplished before the due date. That sums up the entire net neutrality voyage.

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