India Embraces Full Net Neutrality As The U.S. Turns Its Back On The Concept
from the what-listening-to-the-public-looks-like dept
While the United States is busy giving the world a crash course on what telecom regulatory capture looks like, India is taking a decidedly different tack with net neutrality. Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) began laying the groundwork for some real, tough net neutrality rules aimed at protecting their internet markets and consumers from anti-competitive ISP behavior. Here in the States, our soon-to-be-discarded rules left some fairly gaping loopholes governing “zero rating,” which allows ISPs to impose often arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps, then exempt their own content while hindering competitors.
But when the TRAI released its net neutrality guidelines (pdf) late last month, they made it clear that the rules would not only protect against throttling, blocking, or other ham-fisted anti-competitive behavior, but would also be putting the kibosh on zero rating. In previous statements, TRAI had made it abundantly clear that ISPs consistently use artificial scarcity and usage caps to engage in anti-competitive shenanigans via this practice (a realization the FCC in the United States only made after it was too late):
“…differential tariffs result in classification of subscribers based on the content they want to access (those who want to access non-participating content will be charged at a higher rate than those who want to access participating content). This may potentially go against the principle of non-discriminatory tariff. Secondly, differential tariffs arguably disadvantage small content providers who may not be able to participate in such schemes. This may thus, create entry barriers and non-level playing field for these players stifling innovation. In addition, ISPs may start promoting their own websites/apps/service platforms by giving lower rates for accessing them.”
Indian consumers received a crash course on the downside of zero rating thanks to Facebook and its “Free Basics” program. Under the initial version of Free Basics, users obtained free access to a walled garden version of the internet, filled with Facebook-curated content. And while Facebook repeatedly tried to claim it was simply really concerned about helping poor Indian farmers, critics began to notice that Facebook was really just trying to corner the ad market. They also began to realize that letting the social media giant determine winners and losers online wasn’t a particularly smart idea.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg responded indignantly to these charges, arguing that those that didn’t like Facebook’s plan to AOL-ify the internet in India were simply enemies of the poor. But critics like the EFF persisted, noting that Facebook’s approval process not only banned sites that used encryption, but was even opposed by many content partners. Outfits like Mozilla, meanwhile, argued that if Facebook was so concerned with connecting the poor, why not pay to connect them to the actual internet and avoid any controversy?
Despite some pretty sleazy lobbying efforts by Facebook (including trying to trick users into opposing real net neutrality), Indian regulators proceeded last month to ban this and all other anti-competitive shenanigans, crafting what are now some of the toughest net neutrality rules anywhere. Not only is zero rating banned, but so are the more traditional ways ISPs try to abuse a lack of competition (throttling, outright blocking, unfair paid prioritization). Needless to say, net neutrality activists in India are thrilled that their regulators actually listened to consumers and innovators:
“The debate … that this ruling was about was essentially the same one that?s taking place in the US, about whether certain sites should be available at faster speeds,? said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist who’s been a leader in India’s fight for net neutrality. ?And the Indian regulators essentially ruled that there needs to be non-discriminating practices by [internet service providers], where they don?t give preferential treatment to one side or the other.”
Pahwa has been a vocal advocate for net neutrality in India and was a key player in getting India to stop differential pricing for data services last year.
?Net neutrality ensures that there?s free and fair competition on the internet, instead of a situation without net neutrality where the [internet service providers] pick winners,? Pahwa said, adding that ?India?s been at the forefront of this battle.”
This is all of course the polar opposite of what’s now occurring in the States, where FCC boss Ajit Pai is preparing to obliterate what were already quite modest protections by international (Japan, Canada, India, The Netherlands) standards. And, much like the record 20+ million consumers that oppose Pai’s plan, Indian Americans are equally flummoxed by FCC boss Ajit Pai’s grotesque handout to what’s potentially the least-popular industry in America.