The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: India’s recommended net neutrality rules strike a blow for online freedom

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Web master

There may be no better proof that the Indian telecom regulator has recommended stringent net neutrality regulations than the sight of telecom companies being annoyed by the new rules. Although not all internet service providers have been opposed to neutrality, the idea that all data must be treated equally, telecom companies by and large have wanted the freedom to speed up or slow down the internet as per their whim and bottom line. The new recommendations, issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and expected to be turned into mandatory rules by the Department of Telecom, strike a blow for internet freedom.

The recommendations suggest that any sort of “fast lane”, through which an internet provider might deliver say Netflix faster than YouTube, be prohibited. By the same note, the recommended rules also would not allow providers to slow down or manipulate access to any sort of website. Significantly, the recommendations call for the setting up of a multi-stakeholder committee that would monitor and assess net neutrality violations, which is the layer of bureaucracy that the telecom companies are most miffed by, saying the regulations should come with a “light touch”.

The timing of TRAI’s recommendations are particularly significant, since they come just days after the United States announced that it would be repealing rules to protect net neutrality. TRAI chairman RS Sharma, speaking at a press meet, said “the overarching thought that we had was for a country like India, internet is an extremely important platform... Therefore, it is important that this platform be kept open and free and not cannibalized... We have given these recommendations to ensure internet remains an open and free platform in our country.”

Those words are heartening and the recommendations should be celebrated. Just two years ago, social media behemoth Facebook tried to enter the Indian market with a product that it claimed was philanthropic but effectively violated neutrality. The American company’s efforts were met with stiff resistance from a number of activists who mobilised a huge Save the Internet campaign, that successfully fended off lobbying to pressure the government into a commitment towards neutrality.

That campaign has now paid off. There will be more battles to be fought: As the internet becomes even more central to people’s lives, there is no doubt that big businesses will want to manipulate it to protect their territory at the cost of others. But for now, Indians should be satisfied that, at least on paper, India’s net neutrality rules are far stronger than America’s and are among the most stringent in the world.

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Punditry

  1. “We also tend to forget that even the Congress in Gujarat has not been qualitatively different from the BJP: The “allegation” of it being pro-Muslim (a major theme in memes and videos) is laughable in the face of emerging research and critical memory,” writes Rita Kothari in the Indian Express.
  2. “By year five, from an epidemic dream of alternative politics, AAP had become a more modest hypothesis,” writes Shiv Visvanathan in the Hindu. “Yet it created a sense of excitement among people across India. There was a magic to the idea which almost has an existence parallel to the travails of the actual party.”
  3. A leader in Mint argues that India needs a better direct tax system that would help the government rely less on indirect taxes and make the entire process more equitable.
  4. TK Arun in the Economic Times, says that the policy goal of dealing with non-performing assets should be to minimise the haircut that banks take, since that effectively means losses for taxpayers.
  5. “Diseases thought to be multi-determined (that is, mysterious) have the widest possibilities as metaphors for what is considered socially or morally wrong,” writes Amulya Gopalkrishnan in the Times of India. “So every era brought its own anxieties to bear on cancer: the Victorians blamed overcrowding and cities, rather than tobacco. Recently, we’ve viewed it as a disease of consumer capitalism run amok, worrying about non-stick pans and artificial sweeteners and hair dye and microwaves and cellphones.”

Giggle

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Aanchal Malhotra writes on how her book of Partition memories brought together two families from different sides of the border.

When the family first bought the bungalow, it was in rough condition, retaining only the original sofa sets, a writing desk, the dining table and cane chairs. By 1956-’57, they had restored it enough to be lived in. In fact, the two brothers remember buying a can of green paint to revive the vibrant colour of the house’s exterior. They laugh when they recall playing ping-pong on the dining table, proving its sturdiness. They also remember a chowkidar named Biaju, who had continued on from Mian Afzal Husain’s time. And so much like Husain’s family, the Bedis too began to use Kehkashan as a summer home.

When I come home from this meeting, I search through the notes of my interview with Fiyaz Ali. Written in my untidy scrawl are the words “Kehkashaan – father’s house” and “given to Sikh family”. And poignantly sitting at the bottom right corner of the page were a string of words I’d never paid attention to before: “…my father always said that everything of his had remained in India.”

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