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DoT says Net Neutrality will support Digital India drive: Report

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Update: According to The Times of India, the meeting held by the panel on Friday shows DoT is batting for net neutrality, considering the poor internet coverage here.

“As per a World Bank report, access to affordable, high quality internet and mobile phone services enables development across all levels of economy and society. The report finds that for every 10 percentage point increase in high speed internet connections, there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points,” the background note reads.

The note reads that Digital India programme envisions high-speed internet as a crucial factor. The National Telecom Policy 2012 also envisions affordable and reliable broadband by 2015 and 175 million broadband connections by 2017.

While Airtel has been saying how it supports net neutrality and its Zero platform is just an open marketing scheme, telecom regulator Trai could probably join the rest of us who believe otherwise.
The telecom regulatory authority of India now believes that Airtel Zero violates the principle of net neutrality.
A senior Trai official told The Economic Times, “From the looks of it, Airtel Zero and many other plans including Facebook’s Internet.org tie-up with Reliance Communications and the free WhatsApp, Facebook offers by other telcos seem to violate net neutrality.”

Citing sources related to the matter, the report reveals that Airtel has written to Trai explaining Airtel Zero is simply a platform for app makers to offer toll free data services, and doesn’t discriminate against users. However, Trai reportedly doesn’t agree and is ‘scrutinizing the plan and all similar schemes, including Facebook’s Internet.org tie-up with Reliance Communications.

The Airtel Zero platform appeared like a scheme to compete with a similar platform announced by Facebook-Reliance partnership in the form of Internet.org. Apart from the common marketing strategy, both violate ‘net neutrality’. Cleartrip and NDTV too have announced to opt out of Facebook’s Internet.org, just a day after Flipkart walked out of Airtel Zero.

The Times of India and some of its language websites are also in support for net neutrality, and are appealing to all publishers to jointly withdraw from Internet.org. However, Times of India reportedly said even though it supports net neutrality, it will only withdraw from internet.org  if its direct competitors like India Today, NDTV, IBNLive, NewsHunt, and BBC pull out too.

Meanwhile, Trai chairman Rahul Khullar pointed out a corporate war between ‘a media house’ and ‘a telecom operator’ that calls for a democratic debate on net neutrality. He told The Indian Express, “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.” However, the report doesn’t hint or mention the media house or the telco.

Khullar further said that some people are passionately concerned about net neutrality, but there are several others that shouldn’t be ignored ‘despite the passionate nature of the debate between the two extremes’. “We need a democratic debate on the issue, not shrill voices,” he added.

In support of Net Neutrality, Trai has already received over six lakh emails. Protesting against rules trying to redefine the Internet, a website called www.savetheinternet.in was set up where anyone can send a mail directly to Trai, expressing their grief and discomfort about how telecom carriers are snatching away free Internet from them.

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