Net neutrality debate snowballs in an unlikely place
No one thought that net neutrality will come to be fought so bitterly in a third world country like India. For several weeks now, India seems to have become a battle ground for people who want to keep the net neutrality intact and telecom operators and web giants like Airtel, Reliance and Facebook who want to have their way.
The activists and common people are fighting for their freedom to choose between different websites, ecommerce apps and web portals that they want to browse and what they donâ€™t want to browse.
Some big businesses along with telecom operators had planned to bring a few select websites from top corporate giants to peopleâ€™s smartphones free of cost without people paying a single penny to watch, browse and even shop there. But activists ensured that they didnâ€™t succeed. Now even Cellular Operators Association of India has urged all stakeholders in net neutrality to have a comprehensive and informed debate on the subject. Industrial body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Sunday reaffirmed its support for â€˜Net neutralityâ€™, but also made a strong pitch for â€˜net equalityâ€™ that will enable access to Internet for a billion Indians as part of the governments digital India vision.
It is going to be a great step indeed. In a statement today, COAI urged all stakeholders in net neutrality to have a comprehensive and informed debate on the subject, keeping in mind the requirements of India and its citizens. â€œAn important and complex subject such as this, which is still being debated in many countries, which has taken years to conclude in many other countries and which is the subject of litigation in some, should not be left to the opinion of a few,â€ the association said. It made a strong pitch for â€˜net equalityâ€™ that will enable access to the Internet for a billion Indians as part of the governmentâ€™s Digital India vision.
The statement further said, â€œWe support an open Internet and believe that consumers, should decide what to do online. Our job is to enable consumers to benefit from that freedom. We offer choice and do not block or provide any preferential access to any website or appâ€. COAI said its members are fully committed to investing in digital India and need an enabling environment that promotes the growth of the entire Internet ecosystem.
The statement went on to add, â€œWithout infrastructure and investment, there will be no Internet access. Operators have invested billions of dollars in license fees, spectrum fees and network roll-outs. Yet the Industry still makes negative return on the capital employedâ€. The industry estimates India would need an additional capital outlay of Rs. 3-5 lakh crore over the next 10 years in spectrum, new technology, equipment, towers, optical fibre backbone, etc, to meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modiâ€™s vision of Digital India and connect 1 billion Indians. â€œThe need of the hour, therefore, is to have a sustainable industry that has the ability to invest in growth of data services and connectivity to all,â€ COAI said.
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