Criticizing the Centre for looking “the other way when Telecom companies introduced price differential through zero rating plans”, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ scheme cannot become a euphemism for an “internet controlled by large remote corporations”.
Asserting that the Congress has always stood for ‘freedom of the internet’ and net neutrality, Gandhi said in a statement that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)/Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) and the government should treat all data on the internet equally.
The objective of net neutrality is to ensure that all websites on the internet are treated equally. A debate on the issue stirred across the country after Airtel decided to charge separately for internet-based calls but withdrew it later after people protested. Internet activists and experts flayed the operator for ‘Airtel Zero’ service along with Facebook’s internet.org service, currently renamed ‘Free Basics’.
“The Congress Party’s and my belief is shaped by our faith that internet users should be free to connect to any website or service that they want, enabling a level playing field on the ‘world wide web’. We recognize the danger of privileging a private platform over a public Internet introducing a new digital divide,” he said.
Gandhi also accused the government of delaying the framing of a clear-cut policy on net neutrality under the pretext of repeated discussions.
“Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued consultation papers on the issue twice over, covering similar questions for consumers to answer on Net Neutrality, free basics and data price differentiation.” Gandhi said.
The Congress vice-president expressed hope to see a TRAI report and the government’s commitment for an open internet in its entirety, where there is no ambiguity with regard to difference in pricing.
Lauding the free internet and net neutrality activists, who are engaged in the movement to disseminate useful and relevant information to the public despite “misleading marketing gimmicks”, Gandhi said that he saluted their “indomitable spirit”.
“With Digital India, people would get more access to the Internet - the whole internet - and not primarily a filter on the web. This is imperative for India to grow in 21st Century. I sincerely hope that TRAI report and Modi government will adhere to this bounden need espoused by millions of Indians,” he continued.
Trai in March 2014 had floated a consultation paper on regulation for over-the-top applications like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and net neutrality. The paper received over 10 lakh comments which included most of the messages from a digital signature campaign.