Debate on Principle of Net Neutrality and Its Concerns January 29, 2016
Organized by: Debating Development Initiatives
Venue: Activity Room, Pixel B, Azim Premji University
Time: 2.00pm – 4.00pm
The Internet has always remained a level playing field and has facilitated innovation in various areas of its
presence. Be it companies such as Google, Facebook or Flipkart, they initially started off as a simple website
and were able to reach out to millions of users. All this was possible because internet as a network is neutral and
does not discriminate between the parties providing the information. However, a large section of our society is
still deprived of information. Thus, to address the issue of digital literacy, should we allow "Free Basics" a service
provided by Facebook which would provide basic information on topics like health, news, agriculture etc. for free?
Is net neutrality necessary? Should telecom companies be allowed to have a larger say in the way internet is
used by its customers? This debate will draw its arguments from several topics like data privacy, policy making,
surveillance, digital colonialism, democracy and sovereignty and more.
Our lives are largely governed by information today. The Indian state is striving hard to digitize most of its
departmental functions to bring about more transparency and speed to its functioning. The rhetoric of smart cities
is a common talk now. The most salient medium for transfer of this information is the "internet". Internet is called
the network of networks and provides capabilities that can connect any part of the world instantaneously using
an electronic medium. Due to its ubiquitous nature, the internet has acquired a huge political and economic
importance. Internet is just a medium for transfer of information and does not discriminate data by its nature, be
it image, audio, video, document, crypto currency, torrent or any other type.
The Principle of net neutrality seeks to maintain the information neutral aspect of internet and seeks to foster
innovation and encourage competition. However, the internet is also a medium which is used by dangerous antisocial
elements to serve their needs. Cyber terrorists and hackers who prey on unsuspecting individuals to strip
them of their hard earned money, malicious users who wish to damage someone’s identity or cause communal
violence, women and child traffickers searching for clients and victims.
Should the government take proactive measures to regulate the internet and violate net neutrality? Can we justify
state surveillance? How should we think about issues of individual data privacy and national security? Does
internet enable democracy and one of its ideals; the freedom of expression?
A little more than 80 percent of our population does not have access to the internet. Facebook seeks to address
this divide by bringing information in a limited manner on smallest and cheapest of the phones through its “Free
Basics” initiative. Free Basics can be used by the customer at no extra cost to the telecom operator. This initiative
however raises several questions. Will it be foolish to think that Facebook actually means philanthropy through
this initiative? The way Free Basics works, all transfer of data would be done through
Facebook’s internet.org servers and would be modified based on the nature of the device seeking information,
should Facebook be able to censor information? This narrow channel of information transfer can be potentially
used for political ends. Also we are exposing information of a bulk of our population to a single foreign corporate
entity, does it threaten our sovereignty? How do we perceive this from the angle of digital colonialism? Finally
should a less than 20 percent population using the internet today decide what is right for the rest 80 percent
when it comes to acceptance of Free Basics?
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