India Embraces Full Net Neutrality As The U.S. Runs The Opposite Direction

from the ill-communication dept

While the United States walks away from the concept of net neutrality, India just passed some of the toughest net neutrality rules in the world. You’ll recall that net neutrality became a hot topic over in India when Facebook tried to roll out a walled-garden service known as “Free Basics.” Free Basics provided users free, “zero rated” (usage cap exempt) access to a limited selection of curated content and services chosen by Facebook, something Facebook claimed would immeasurably benefit the nation’s poor farmers.

In reality, many pointed out that Facebook’s breathless concern for the poor really just masked the company’s attempt to corner the ad markets in developing nations. Content providers didn’t like Facebook being the one to dictate which services would or wouldn’t be included for obvious reasons. Others (like Mozilla) noted that if Facebook was truly interested in connecting developing nations with broadband, it could, you know, actually do that. Others still weren’t keen on another white, Western billionaire proclaiming that only he had the magical solution to the nation’s problems.

Facebook’s response to these concerns wasn’t what you’d call impressive, with Zuckerberg insisting those opposed to his plans were simply hurting the poor. That behavior in turn only galvanized activist support for tougher net neutrality rules in the country, the foundations for which were laid last year. There too Facebook engaged in some shady behavior, at one point trying to trick Indian citizens into supporting its plans and opposing meaningful net neutrality protections.

That didn’t work, and last week the Indian government put the finishing touches on what, by most measures, are considered some of the toughest net neutrality rules in the world:

Not only do the rules prohibit most of the standard bad behaviors you wouldn’t want ISPs to engage in (throttling or blocking competitors, for example), it takes a hard stance against the practice of zero rating, or letting an ISP exempt its own (or say a deep-pocketed partner like Disney or ESPN) content from usage caps, while penalizing competitors. As we’ve seen in the states, ISPs in India were fine with the bans on blocking and throttling (since most ISPs know such a move would be PR suicide), but expressed disdain at portions of the rules that banned more nuanced, creative areas where anti-competitive behavior occurs today.

You’ll also notice some now-common arguments from India’s wireless carriers, including claiming that rules banning anti-competitive behavior will “hamper innovation,” or insisting that net neutrality somehow prevents wireless carriers from deploying faster, better 5G networks:

?Where the net neutrality recommendations are concerned, we have already expressed our support on issues pertaining to non-discriminatory use of the Internet, including no blocking, no throttling and adoption of same service-same rules. That said, we reiterate our earlier position that a light touch regulatory approach should be adopted so that innovation is not hampered by the Net Neutrality rules,? Rajan S Mathews, director general, COAI, said in a statement.

In particular, COAI believes that industry practices with regard to traffic prioritisation should be reviewed to help ?foster 5G-enabled applications?.

?Now that the commission has approved the recommendations, which are before the Cabinet for approval, we hope that the Cabinet will consider the concerns raised by the industry so that the Net Neutrality rules that are adopted in India benefit the consumers, incentivise innovation and adoption of new technologies, and enable the seamless spread of state of the art networks and service,? he added.”

Again, if you’re an ISP that doesn’t engage in anti-competitive behavior, you have nothing to worry about. And the only “creative” or “innovative” behaviors banned by rules (assuming they’re crafted properly) are efforts to further abuse a lack of competition in the space. Without them, ISPs have and will do everything in their power to abuse their gatekeeper positions to glean additional revenue. It’s a lesson the United States appears intent on learning the hard way.

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