Status update (July 2nd 2015)

Hi, just thought I'd give you guys a lowdown on where we are with the Net Neutrality battle in India. I might edit this later with more details.

tl;dr

It's not over yet. TRAI process is paused, DoT report looks very worrying, Standing Committee process is on, Digital India makes no mention of Net Neutrality. Given the way Net Neutrality has been defined in RS Prasad's Rajya Sabha statements, it looks the definition of Net Neutrality is still open to change. We need to request standing committee MPs to support Net Neutrality. We also need support across political parties, and to attend the TRAI open house sessions when they happen. We need to get industry to push for Net Neutrality too.

  1. TRAI process:

    The TRAI currently doesn't have a Chairman, so everything appears to be stalled until one is appointed. After the comments were submitted, most via savetheinternet.in, and I guess many by redditors, counter comments were submitted. Some of us, including me (for Medianama) and the team at Savetheinternet.in chose to submit in the counter comment stage. We decided to file separate comments, and urged everyone to file individually as well.

  2. DoT process:

    We deposed before the DoT. My submission was similar to that of the submission to TRAI above, which is the basis of most of my submissions. The DoT meeting had gone of well, and the DoT subcommittee seemed very keen on Net Neutrality, but appeared to be particularly concerned about security.

    It appears, from an ET Now report, that: - the DoT has favored licensing for Internet communications apps (Whatsapp, Viber etc). - Asked the TRAI to look into Zero rating. ET NOW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8V7ibiyKvA

    An earlier mint report corroborates some of this: http://www.livemint.com/Industry/rS9rB1w36nlRnuCFQ8xKKM/DoT-panel-says-zerorating-plan-does-not-violate-Net-neutral.html

  3. Parliamentary Standing Committee:

    Was constituted in January, and has held meetings with the TRAI and DoT for an initial briefing, with the telecom operators and with civil society. The meetings with the telecom operators were held twice because of how late the telecom operator submissions were given to the MPs (giving them less time to prepare), and only Airtel, Idea and Voda had been called. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/lk-advani-opposes-modi-government-at-key-net-neutrality-meeting-oppn-stalls-gathering/article1-1349778.aspx

    The rumor about the subsequent meeting with the telcos is that it wasn't very easy for them.

    We cannot disclose anything about the meeting, since the proceedings are confidential until the report comes out, and our disclosing information would mean that we can be prosecuted. Was surprised to find an Indian Express report, but we cannot confirm or deny this: http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/net-neutrality-campaigners-slam-telecom-cos-at-panel-meeting/

  4. Digital India & Parliament:

    The Government's Digital India campaign, announced yesterday, had notably no mention of Net Neutrality, and a significant focus on cyber security. It also had the telecom CEOs promising to invest in Digital India. To me, this means two things: whenever cyber security comes us, there's talk of licensing. Whenever there is a focus on access with the telcos, there's a push for Zero Rating.

    In the discussion in Parliament last month, we saw statements from multiple MPs and the telecom minister. Most of the MPs supported Net Neutrality: http://www.medianama.com/2015/05/223-what-mps-said-on-net-neutrality-in-the-rajya-sabha-today/

    The telecom minister too supported Net Neutrality, but his definition of Net Neutrality can be read either as a support for increasing access or as support for Net Neutrality (without discriminating between service providers):

    "This government is committed to the fundamental principles and concept of Net Neutrality. That is, keep the Internet available & accessible to all without discrimination." http://www.medianama.com/2015/05/223-what-ravi-shankar-prasad-said-about-net-neutrality-in-rajya-sabha-today/

  5. Internet industry support:
    Has largely been absent. They won't really care until it hits them, or they've assumed that we've won. In fact, you might remember Flipkart saying that they will form a coalition to support Net Neutrality, along with Cleartrip, Housing and Paytm. I've reached out to Flipkart on a number of occasions, spoken to company representatives, but there has been zero action (heh) from them since then.

    Don't forget that if Licensing happens or Zero rating goes through, the bigger companies will have a competitive advantage over smaller ones. From a purely business perspective, they would like this. Only those who take an ecosystem POV will be against Net Neutrality and be against Zero rating.

What can we do?

  1. DoT process: The report isn't public yet, and hell, we don't even know if it's finalized. The initial draft is worrying, but if we have enough support asking the minister to not license apps and not do zero rating, he might take that into consideration since he is the final word on this, unless the PM steps in. Tweet to them (@rsprasad, @narendramodi), Facebook to them, let them know what you think.

  2. TRAI process: We don't know, but this is likely to be the slowest of the three, but when it happens, those of you who wrote to the TRAI might want to request permission to attend the TRAI open house and make your voices heard. I've attended many of these, and it is usually telcos there.

  3. Standing Committee: This is the most important committee right now. Here's a list of MPs: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wZrq0GzfTLmU7jcigDPkBsQ43DQ9QI92P9TfqHPvwvI/edit#gid=0 you may write to them asking them to support Net Neutrality. The Chairman, Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur), is the man at the helm of this standing committee.

  4. Parliament: Resumes on the 22nd or 23rd (I'm not sure which day), but it's unlikely it will continue, given Lalitgate and the land acquisition bill. So far, every party has had MPs supporting Net Neutrality, including Tarun Vijay from the BJP who called for an Internet bill of Rights. We need more support from MPs, especially from those in the BJP, and above all from the PM and the telecom minister.

    Our two old lists: Tell Indian politicians to support Net Neutrality: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1hFECFTMB5sqQVrAqSgdQQ4N9rFxY6-TwzkimhSTOKIw/edit#gid=0 (also at tinyurl . com/INDIAmpsgovt)

    Tell Lok Sabha members to support Net Neutrality: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Dd_SfxIpsl1Uf4yGPBcC2ogyWDV2G2tfccZwb786j9o/edit#gid=1838261279 (also at tinyurl . com/Indiampemail)

  5. Industry: tell Indian startups to get more involved and fight against licensing and support Net Neutrality: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ktlZJsQejKfZwZalsUxzGfP-zdnmhc0huvJCMPlHPB0/edit#gid=0 (also at tinyurl . com/INDIAstartups)

We're also trying to reach out to MPs to try and convince them, actually meeting them. We've done a lot of running around over the past two months, trying to collect information, write submissions, and convince people one by one. The telcos and facebook, from what we've heard, have already met lots of MPs. The COAI even sent them letters with their point of view.

Nikhil Pahwa

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