Indian regulators lead in upholding net neutrality

February 09, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 02:23 pm IST

Net neutrality activist Vishal Misra on TRAI's ruling

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Monday ruling effectively bans differential pricing on the Internet.

This is momentous and TRAI must be applauded for taking such a clear stand on a complex issue that has left regulators vexed around the world. It is fair to say that Indian regulators lead the world in upholding net neutrality.

Net neutrality is a nuanced issue and confuses a lot of people. As a networking researcher, I was a “net neutrality” sceptic when the prevalent understanding was that net neutrality was about treating all packets equally, which has never been done on the Internet, and isn’t feasible anyway.

Net neutrality instead is about how you treat competition, and about the Internet providing a level-playing platform for ideas.

While this issue was dominated by the controversy surrounding Facebook’s Free Basics, it goes beyond that. Recently, T-Mobile in the United States announced a programme called ‘Binge On’, in which video streaming services of T-Mobile partner sites got ZeroRated; that is, their bandwidth was priced at 0, a very special case of differential pricing. Early data from T-Mobile revealed that as a result of the programme, product usage of partner services of ‘Binge On’ grew faster than those services not covered by ‘Binge On’. This distorts the marketplace, and the platform should not be engaging in it.

Your electricity company should not dictate which model of TV you should use. TRAI has correctly identified this nuance, and in a clearly-worded ruling made sure that the openness of the Internet is maintained, at least in India. I have no doubts whatsoever that regulators around the world will soon be following India’s lead on this. Credit also goes to the citizens’ movement in India, ‘Save The Internet’, which has been relentless in raising awareness around this issue. Well-meaning people have been opposing the net neutrality movement, and to them I say that the end goal of everyone is the same; and that is to get all of India (and the world) online. A full and open Internet is the best way to provide benefits to all, and we need to find the best way forward. A lot more needs to be done; let’s do it together.

Vishal Misra is a professor in the computer science department of Columbia University, New York. He cofounded CricInfo and is the founder of Infinio

A full and open Internet is

the best way

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benefits to all

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