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The Politics behind Net Neutrality

We explained the basic concepts of Net Neutrality here, and from that, its pretty clear that this is far from being a political debate. But we cannot escape from the fact that what finally happens on this issue, is governed by Politicians, and hence it is important to know where everybody stands on this matter.

Firstly we have to assess the response of the ruling party BJP and its Government. The Government (via TRAI) let people send in their views, to help decide on this issue. Among other things, AIB in their video on Net Neutrality say “TRAI put up the consultation paper on 27th of March with a conveniently tight deadline of 24th April, to hear any complaints that we might have against it” trying to insinuate that somehow the TRAI is hand in glove with the Telco lobby. While, no-one outside TRAI can say this for sure, it certainly doesn’t seem so since TRAI actually invited public responses.

Also, the “conveniently tight deadline” of 1 month odd, is in fact a standard time frame for such exercises:

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TRAI released a consultation paper on 1st April 2015, the deadline for which is 22 April 2015

Another TRAI consultation paper released on 27th Feb 2015 was open till 19 March  2015

The Law Commission of India released a consultation paper in May 2014, for which the time frame was again 30 days.

Considering the above, it would be uncharitable to the Government to claim that 30 days was a “conveniently tight deadline”. On this front, the Government via TRAI has taken the right step, by not bowing down to pressure from the Telco lobby, but asking opinions from the public

Where, the Government, rather the BJP as a party can be faulted is its extremely slow response to this debate. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was one of the first politicians to bat for Net Neutrality, with this tweet:

But the party spokespersons never quite picked up the tempo on this issue. It was upto Ravi Shankar Prasad to again come on TV channels, just two days back, to speak on this issue. But couldn’t directly articulate the party’s stand since he was part of the Government. He however dropped enough hints to show that BJP was pro Net Neutrality. For a party whose leader is believed to very tech savvy, BJP took far too long to take a stand.

Considering that BJP owes its astounding victory at-least partly to Social Media, and that its Social Media team have shown their capabilities earlier, BJP waited for the outrage levels on Social Media to reach sky high before coming out in support of Net Neutrality. It almost seemed a forced response, where BJP could have siezed the initiative and run the campaign on its own.

On the other hand, Tathagata Sathpathy, an MP from the regional party BJD, took the initiative and wrote a dissenting letter to TRAI. Among other regional parties that reacted, AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal tweeted the following:

It is indeed a welcome move to support Net Neutrality, but AAP may have been guilty of violating this principle themselves. As we pointed out here in February, way before Net Neutrality was the hot potato it is today, AAP’s plan to provide free WiFi is against Net Neutrality. According to AAP’s promise, they will provide free WiFi but will decide which which services can be used via free WiFi. This is in violation of the basic principle of Net Neutrality that All Internet traffic should be treated equally, because AAP wants to decide what services you will use. In light of the new-found love for Net Neutrality, we guess AAP might have to reconsider their free WiFi plans  

As for Congress, with Youth Icon Rahul Gandhi missing, it was upto Ajay Maken to take up the cause. In a press conference today, Maken came in support of Net Neutrality, becoming one of the last major parties to speak on this topic. Even in this, Maken chose to take pot-shots at BJP instead of keeping politics aside on this issue.

(Update: Ajay Maken had shared AIB’s NetNeutrality video two days before his press conference. )

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