The Government of India adopts net neutrality rules

The Government of India through the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) approved net neutrality rules on 11 July. Net neutrality that will ensure that all Indian citizens continue to have free and fair access to the Internet. 

The decision was made on recommendations proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in November 2017, which stated that net neutrality would ban Internet service providers (ISPs) from participating in any form of discrimination or interference in the provision of online content.

The Department of Telecommunications has accepted the net neutrality rules as they fall in line with the Government’s vision to create a digitally empowered nation. The Department intends to develop a sturdy and secure state-of-the-art telecommunication network that provides seamless coverage to rural and remote areas to bridge the digital gap in the country, facilitate socio-economic development and create an inclusive knowledge society through affordable and high-quality broadband services.

Under net neutrality, access to the Internet and the delivery of online services is unrestricted and the same for everyone. Net neutrality prohibits the blocking, throttling, and zero-rating of internet data.

The only exceptions to the rules are new and upcoming services that might require prioritised Internet lanes and faster delivery speeds, such as autonomous driving, telemedicine or remote surgery services. A committee will look into the possible exceptions for crucial IoT (Internet of Things) services.  

Net neutrality has become a pressing issue across the world as social media giants and mobile and Internet service providers want greater control over the delivery of services and online content to internet users.

According to a press statement released by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting earlier in May 2018, India is expected to have around 969 million Internet users by 2021. At present, a large number of the Indian population still does not have access to the Internet, but with the increase in smartphone manufacturing, affordable mobile data plans and the setting up of Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas, India is expected to make a lot of progress over the next few years.

Initiatives like these are a part of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India plan that was launched in July 2015 with the objective to create a digitally literate country.

India has been campaigning for net neutrality for almost three years, the Department of Telecommunications first examined net neutrality in January 2015. The Ministry of Communications released a press statement that quoted the Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, saying that for India, net neutrality is very important and is an instrument for the masses and it must remain an instrument for the masses. As far as government architecture to deal with this issue is concerned India is studying this and discussing it with stakeholders. 

Net neutrality rules require Internet service providers to treat all online content equally, avoiding the with-holding of content and access to certain websites, services and apps.

The new net neutrality rules are expected to benefit start-ups and encourage innovation as access to the Internet will be free and non-discriminatory. Smaller organisations will have the opportunity to expand without having to worry about unfair competition from larger companies that pay for specialised treatment.

Indian Internet service providers will need to agree to function according to the rules when they sign license agreements with the Department of Telecommunications. Internet service providers that fail to follow net neutrality rules could have their licenses cancelled.

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