Don’t be Neutral on Net Neutrality: The Debate in the US and Why Indians Should Be Concerned

Anuradha Naik

Editor’s note: The net neutrality debate is back again in the US and if the American government succeeds in ending it, it will slice the internet into corporate-controlled pieces. It will have implications for the entire world and the Indian authorities might also follow suit. We are publishing this note by Anuradha Naik for bringing clarity on core issues of net neutrality.

Why being neutral on Net Neutrality is effectively turning your back on the Internet

What is Net Neutrality and why is it important

Tim Berners Lee the inventor of the web describes Net Neutrality as the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all traffic equally .It underpins the internet, as we know it today. It has allowed millions of people to build businesses, connect with friends and family, launch social movements, and share their ideas freely.

This excerpt is from an article he wrote:

“When I invented the World Wide Web in 1989, I didn’t have to pay a fee, or ask anyone for permission to make it available over the internet. All I had to do was write a new app and plug my computer into the net.If US net neutrality rules are repealed, future innovators will have to first negotiate with each ISP to get their new product onto an internet package. “

Read the full article here .You can also take a look at this Infographic.

What happened in India

On 8 February 2016, TRAI took a revolutionary decision, prohibiting telecom service providers from levying discriminatory rates for data after receiving a million emails from citizens and politicians, thus ruling in favor of Net Neutrality in India. This move was welcomed by millions of Indians and also by people from other countries who are fighting or fought for net neutrality , and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee.

The rules ensured :

  1. No service provider can offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
  2. No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
  3. Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
  4. Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified.
  5. TRAI may review these regulations after a period of two years.

This came in the wake of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg launching his Free Basics program,The TRAI blocked Free Basics on the basis that although the service is free, there are specific sites that cannot be accessed unless the consumer pays. Zuckerberg countered this argument by releasing a statement saying, “It’s not an equal Internet if the majority of people can’t participate.” ignoring the fact that he was dictating how they participated and also how much money he was going to make off that “participation”.

Read more here.

What a free and open internet it means to me

Being born in the 90’s ,I grew up with the Internet .By the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade I had started consuming videos from Youtube. As I grew up the internet taught me to think for myself and always keep searching for information to make sense of what is happening around me. Which is how I discovered Udacity, Udemy and Code School when none in my non-technical family remotely knew how to operate a mobile phone. The ability to visit every website under the sun and being able to self-curate information that is best for me, has not only been one of the cornerstones for my professional development but also my overall development as a human being.

By the time I finished my college, I realized the content, which was broadcasted on cable, was not in keeping with the reality of the world in which we lived. Maybe it was because only big corporations owned by the richest in society bought advertising on it, just a guess. Therefore, as I grew thirsty for a media outlet, which spoke to me, and the life I am living. I discovered alternative media and they admit that the reason why they are able to reach so many people is the internet and the net neutrality protections, which keep their content accessible in spite of the corporations spending millions of dollars online to compete.

Bill Clinton passed the Telecommunications act in the 90’s due to which six giant media companies own everything people in the US see on TV and radio. The advertisers on these outlets all come from big banks, big pharma and the Military Industrial complex. When you turn on CNN or MSNBC you really see what happens when only the opinions of the very rich have a place on the platform. The result is a highly sanitized, removed from reality, stale sales pitch for the corporations. Ajit Pai the former Verizon lawyer apparently thinks that it is not enough that Cable and Radio suck. That is how the internet also should be according to him.

Personally, I can confirm that the Internet has expanded my perspective in indescribable ways .I owe my whole career to the Internet and as a developer who wants to keep making more apps and sites, This news is nothing short of devastating. But the worst part is that allowing this to happen would close the door on so many after me who need the same free and open internet to prosper and become successful in their own right.

What the struggle has been like in the US

In 2014 after a ton of nationwide protests, the Obama Whitehouse came out for Title II Net Neutrality protections and it was recognized as a civil rights issue. But the fight was far from over and due to the billions poured into FCC and Congress it was still an uphill battle.

By 2017 Trump relected Ajit Pai to head the FCC and his congress voted for Verizon, Comcast to sell off consumer data to any 3rd parties they desire.

Ajit Pai announced that they will be voting for the Internet Freedom Act, which means freedom for the ISP’s to pick and choose the sites they want their customers to see. In response there was an Internet wide day of action on July 12th. I coined the term Online Democracy to be used synonymously with Net Neutrality and the reason I did that was because the term encapsulates the idea that every website online should be treated equally and the website should be viewed on the basis of their content ,not how much they paid to Comcast. The Internet should be in the hands of the people and creators online not the people who regulate bandwidth speed that is #OnlineDemocracy. Since 12th July big companies like Apple, Github and NetFlix have expressed grief and disappointment over FCC’s ruling.Even the internet behemoths realize the importance of Net Neutrality because they don’t want to pay ransom to Comcast and AT&T when they could spending that money on staffing and development.

23rd November was the historic day when the FCC officially announced it was going to end the internet as we knew it. Being an unelected body the public could not threaten the FCC with electoral consequences .This made possible for them to circumvent the will of 83% of the people.
On 7th December every person who cared about the future of the internet was out protesting the upcoming vote and the week after that the public including celebrities condemned Ajit Pai online. Yet on 14th Dec, the FCC voted in favor of gutting Net Neutrality in a 3-2 vote.

The Aftermath

Right now people are trying everything in their power to reverse that vote and reinstate net neutrality for good. One approach is getting a CRA passed through Congress, which would reverse the repeal. Secondly, 22 State Attorney Generals are suing the FCC’s unconstitutional vote. Additionally, Governors from states like New York are instituting their own Net Neutrality laws and most recently the extremely conservative state Montana has decided to instate its own broadband, which would make sure that the poorest have access to the internet and Net Neutrality stays in place. All in all the public is doing everything they can to protect democracy and right to information.

What you can do to keep up and get involved

Being involved is not easy. There many questions, the first one being where to start? To keep up with the movement in the US are a few links to help you get started:

Battleforthenet

Humanist report

Fight for the future

Ajit Pai is an Indian American, so obviously it was a day of shame when he repealed democracy online just because Verizon stuffed his pockets. It goes against the equality and democracy that our freedom fighters fought and died for. Right now, the citizens in the United States are trying desperately to overturn his disastrous vote. Therefore, it’s important to show solidarity online for two reasons.

  • a. If you happen to be an online creator, you have blog or website, There might be a chance that the people in US will be asked to pay more tariff for “international material”. That would mean losing a key market because most might just opt out of accessing that. Additionally, communication with loved ones or business partners might get more complicated and expensive. Let me make this clear corporate greed knows no bounds. Verizon and Comcast have spent billions in the last 5 years to make this vote happen, they fully intend to make 10 times more than the “investment” they made, and people like you are expected to pay for that return on investment.
  • b. The TRAI decision in India is temporary and will be reviewed in 2018 and reports have been circulating that after US, India might follow suit. We don’t need corporate geniuses like Zuckerberg telling us what sites we should access and what we shouldn’t. If we don’t get all sites, it is not the internet, its online cable.

It is hard to take a stand in front of your peers, there are awkward questions that follow, and sometimes there are even worse ramifications. But not having an internet is way worse than all of that which is why I did everything could to save Online Democracy and I got over all my doubts because the access to information is my right I could not survive without it.

It is not that complicated .Speak out and spread awareness. For example, People changed their relationship status to “married to #NetNeutrality” on Facebook (I am still married to this day). Pressure high profile people to understand and get involved (You just have to @ someone on Twitter or Instagram) .Sweating about it is not enough; it’s going to take devoted effort to make sure we all have our internet.

Conclusion

I write this in the aftermath of Holocaust Remembrance Day and this aggressive movement to keep internet free and open has taught me how fragile democracy and free speech is. Taking that for granted allows demagogues (and there are a lot of them at present) and the corporate interests to use the most toxic propaganda to destroy society and its morale for their own gain. This is what leads a perfectly good society to accept the genocide and gassing of Jews, because the voices who were going to oppose it were completely silenced and banished.

I don’t write this to scare the pants off you or making the case for something that you already know is right. I need you to understand that just knowing the importance of freedom and democracy is not important. If you really care about it, you have to stand up and save it and revitalize it for the ones after you. I truly believe that if the people of the internet use their collective voice to protect information and the freedom to access information at good speed, we all will see a new era of online prosperity.

 

 

 

 

 

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