Net neutrality in India is on the rocks. Many leaders and political icons are taking sides and vocalizing their thoughts on how or if online content should be regulated.
For those who are unaware of the global issue, the fight for such policies is very real. A study from the Web Foundation uncovered that 74 percent of countries taking part in the Web Index are not properly implementing net neutrality regulations.
Net Neutrality 101
In a nutshell, net neutrality means full access to online content regardless of source, brand or message (unless it’s illegal). For example, if a person wants to look for an item on a local e-commerce website instead of Amazon, he or she can do so without hitting any roadblocks.
Lack of net neutrality would allow ISPs to have a strong say in how consumers view and access digital content. Businesses could fast track their online efforts by paying ISPs for priority bandwidth. Furthermore, ISPs have the option to charge consumers extra for various services such as WhatsApp and Skype.
What’s Happening in India?
In the past year, telcos companies in India have expressed their negative views on over-the-top (OTT) services. Simply put, voice calling and messaging apps are eating into their revenue streams. Local telcos began looking to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for new regulations against OTT offerings.
Airtel took a proactive approach to the problem by attempting to launch a data plan that charged VoIP services. It received serious flack from consumers.
Recently, the company organized Airtel Zero, a marketing campaign that grants access to participating apps at zero data charges. App developers signed on with the platform are expected to shoulder the data consumed by individuals. The service was immediately put down by consumers, forcing Airtel to release an official statement:
“We are simply taking the concept of toll-free voice to the world of data. As a result, it is for the application developers and their customers to decide how data charges will be paid for.”
Putting India’s Thriving Online Markets at Risk
Without net neutrality, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and startups will have a difficult time competing with large companies that have the budget to streamline their online presence. India currently ranks third globally when it comes to number of internet users, making the region extremely attractive for big companies with deep pockets.
Competing with leading e-commerce establishments is not impossible, but without a level playing field, it can deter entrepreneurs and SMBs from participating in the market.
Seeing that this could potentially be harmful to India’s online growth, a team from savetheinternet.in drafted an open letter to Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, indicating:
“We dream that an Indian startup may one day become the next Google, Facebook or Amazon. We know that you share our dream. We share another dream with you, the dream of a Digital India. We dream of this as Indians, and also as businesses that wish to serve a fast-growing Indian internet market. These dreams cannot be achieved without the open Internet.”
So far over 225 local companies including Cloud Cover, HiFX, Ozonetel and Virdhara International- all from India’s startup ecosystem- have digitally signed the letter.
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