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'Net neutrality: Free access should never be curtailed'

Last updated on: April 24, 2015 18:54 IST



When the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India put up a consultation paper on its web site on March 27, asking users for their views on net neutrality, it probably did not expect an avalanche of emails in protest.

A day before the deadline for feedback expired on April 24, more than one million emails had been sent by netizens in favour of Save The Internet, the biggest-ever response India has seen for a social campaign.

As the TRAI imposed deadline ends on April 24, Rediff Chat will host a series of net activists and experts to explain the issues involved, what is at stake here, and why net neutrality needs to be an article of faith if the dream of Digital India is to be realised.

Kicking off our series, Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama and a vocal supporter of net neutrality, chatted with Rediff readers on Friday.

Here is the transcript:

Seema Dutt

Will global competitors race ahead?

Nikhil Pahwa

They have the money. Indian startups will be forced to raise more money to compete with Indian telcos and big Indian internet startups

Shubham Paldewar

In my opinion, it is too early to establish a regulatory framework for OTT services since access speeds are generally low.

Nikhil Pahwa

I think it's important to establish protection for net neutrality NOW. We cant risk the still nascent internet startup ecosystem in India, leave it in the hands of telecom operators

Rana Dhindsa

Internet providers such give good speeds and services and charge accordingly. People will always pay for good Quality. Social networks are the highways of Human interaction. They should be Encouraged, not Taxed. People should Boycott such Providers and teach them a Lesson.

Nikhil Pahwa

agree. give free access to everything (say, 50 mb, 100 mb). dont select winners or restrict access to some services

Gajanan Bose

The NetNeutrality matter is still not over and still requires (a small and totally manageable) effort from every one of us.

Nikhil Pahwa

I meant plus 1. I agree

Nikhil Pahwa

toll free voice is very different from toll free data. toll free voice is a support mechanism, business can run without it. data is the entire access.

Shankar Kathurde

Isn't the threat to Net Neutrality just hypothetical?

Nikhil Pahwa

is a threat to VOIP hypothetical ? No, its not. Telecos (only them) for years have the regulatory permission to terminate VOIP to PSTN. Not rolled out till date. The consumer has suffered, now they want to control the internet.

Roshan Parkar

Does this help or hurt wireless competition?

Nikhil Pahwa

I don't know. From what I can see, the wireless carriers in India aren't really competing. Airtel, Idea and Vodafone have 3G interconnection agreements, a infra JV together, and they're all in this together at the coai

Megha Nambiar

What happens if net neutrality is permanently struck down?

Nikhil Pahwa

different sites will work at different speeds. some sites will be more expensive to use than others, some sites will be available in packages, others not. the startup ecosystem in india will have to pay telcos for zero rated customers to access them. different internets across different operators.

Simon Xavier

The Federal Communications Commission’s March 2015 rules are revealing: it says “sponsored data plans (sometimes called zero-rating)” could “provide benefits to consumers” and that such “new service offerings, depending on how they are structured, could benefit consumers and competition.” So why is the argument in India veering off elsewhere?

Nikhil Pahwa

The debate around zero rating isn't over globally, and it's an evolving debate. In India, where customers are significantly price conscious, it could lead to monopolistic practices. We've seen those in the past with how content was dealt with in Mobile VAS. Our belief is that it creates walled gardens, harms the Internet ecosystem and consumer choice

Ganesh Walke

Anything else the FCC might try?

Nikhil Pahwa

I'm focusing on the Indian situation. We're writing about it at and our submission site for TRAI is at . today's the last day for submissions

Sukhvinder Agah

Conservatives who don't trust mainstream media should be very worried about elimination of net neutrality regulations. If ISPs are charging websites for bandwidth, mainstream media is going to be the only thing you'll be able to read on the internet.

Nikhil Pahwa

Someone, anyone, please convince them :) This is a bipartisan issue. It impacts all of us. I don't want anyone to break the way the Internet works

gunnu chopra

What options are Telcos left with? The way Whats app and Skype are hijacking there revenue model...

Nikhil Pahwa

Switch to a data business model. That's what telcos in Europe have done, and others in South Korea too. They need to improve and monetize data access better. For them, both voice and data revenues are growing, so I don't see a problem. Neither does Airtel CEO:

gunnu chopra

Telco's are making a massive effort to survive profitably. If they are paying tons of money to buy the spectrum they have to make money as well. This is the truth but if apps like Whats app and Fb Messenger are making or I would say completely highjacking there income sources what should Telecos do

Nikhil Pahwa

Telcos are profitable, and they're making money every time you and I use whatsapp or FB messenger. Their data revenues are growing. Deepak Shenoy has a great post on this:

Karan Bhasin

A small hypothetical. A company offers the entire internet, no walling off or anything, for free but the catch is that they get to inject some ads into your browsing experience. How would you feel about that?

Nikhil Pahwa

As long as they don't control what you're accessing, it's not a violation of net neutrality. However, most advertising is contextual, and there are privacy concern. Also, MTNL does put ads in my connection, but still charges the same. hate it.

Saroj Khan

How would you like it... if a co worker who does the same work as you, gets to leave an hour or 2 earlier each day... yet... they get the same pay as you! Competition is good. It is the reason we have sooo much new technology. In the long run... competition also makes prices go down.

Nikhil Pahwa

Agree, but Internet companies and telecom operators are different services, so how are they competing? Telecom operators provide access to services like Rediff. they make money when you use Rediff. Secondly, all telecom operators are together in this, so they aren't competing. Your data charges have gone up, not down. Low competition

Raju Vohra

But seriously, Nikhil Pahwa, are you arguing that the Internet is a one-size-fits-all beast? Are you battling for Net Neutrality or Utopia?

Nikhil Pahwa

I think the Internet access has to be neutral, in terms of which service is being accessed. This is not for utopia, but for maintaing the status quo which has given us such a vibrant ecosystem, and allowed people like you and me to start up easily. I don't want startups to be forced to become vendors of telcos

Radhakrishnan G

Suppose all net users boycott net providers who do not believe in Net Neutrality and shift to Providers with Net Neutrality this will affect the big players and hurt them….with number portability this should be possible…your views…Customer is the King…

Nikhil Pahwa

Not an easy task because there are very few operators with enough quality connectivity. If they were equal, it would have been easy. Also, all of them are together on this: Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Uninor, Reliance Jio, Aircel. Where will you go?

Zoran Saher

I would be OK with scrapping net neutrality on one condition: price discrimination could only be used to punish the delivery of ads.

Nikhil Pahwa

Different businesses have different ways of monetization. I don't think the access pipe should discriminate between how Internet companies run their business. If you ran one, would you like a telecom operator to determine how you price or monetize? I wouldn't

Vimlesh Purohit

The FCC is dipping a toe into regulating such arrangements by allowing companies to file complaints if they think they’re being treated unfairly. The commission will review the arrangements on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they’re “just and reasonable.” But it hasn’t signaled what sorts of terms might not clear the bar.

Nikhil Pahwa

I don't think we should even risk this in India. the FCC decision isn't the best one for users.


If I am not wrong one day will come when telecom companies will charge you on the basis what you are accessing on net or to whom you are calling. One may be asked to pay more when they call their wife because you call that number more often hence you should be charged more for calling that number

Nikhil Pahwa

I don't think it will ever be as bad as that, but they might want to charge you differently for different sites. That's like converting the internet into TV, and restricting your freedom to choose what you want to watch.

Viraj Garad

Do we see a forbearance fail?

Nikhil Pahwa

Didn't understand the question

Bala Chander Misra

As a customer, isn’t it beneficial to me if the websites / portals / apps pay the ISP? Won’t it mean that the customer will get the web access to these sites etc free? What is the problem with that? You look at a newspaper, for instance, the advertiser subsides it, so we get it at an affordable price. Why can’t the same model work for the internet?

Nikhil Pahwa

Telcos can't be compared with newspapers. Telcos are not content creators. they're access services, built on public resource like spectrum. they shouldn't determine where you go.Secondly, longer term implication is that if they start discriminating between services, they make some services more powerful vs others. The road shouldn't favor any destination, imo.

Vineet Khare

When has government regulation ever inspired innovation?

Nikhil Pahwa

Though there are privacy concerns, I think Aadhar might have been one. There are several government innovations regarding tech. check the digital empowerment foundation case studies.

Karan Bhasin

I think this is a violation of Net Neutrality. If I am not on these networks I am unable to pay to watch the match online. What's your opinion?

Nikhil Pahwa

I think that's more a function of billing integration than discrimination between providers. Not all telecom operators allow carrier billing. We're not talking about billing neutrality here, but I had raised it here:

Siraj Memon

Is there a difference between how the US and the Western world perceive, understand Net Neutrality and the way it is understood in India? Are we both on the same page or talking about different things?

Nikhil Pahwa

India is ground zero for zero rating. Speeds in India are slow and slower, not fast vs slow. We are defining the global debate on whether price discrimination is fine or not. the US has allowed price discrimination on a case by case basis.

Karthik Yermunja

What are your thoughts on zero rating of govt websites/apps meant for public service and information?

Nikhil Pahwa

This is a tricky one. While we might want the citizens to get access to government sites for free, the issue is: why should they have a monopoly over product? I think cleartrip can build a better product for train booking than IRCTC. This govt has a stated policy of opening up their API. Developers who build using the API will end up competing against the government with 0 rating. Not fair, right?


What does net neutrality violations include?

Nikhil Pahwa

Net Neutrality violations include things like slowing down some sites or speeding up others because those sites have a special deal with telecom operators, paid or unpaid. The same situation could happen with respect to making access to some types of services or some sites more expensive versus others. So, facebook could be free and whatsapp paid. VoIP more expensive than regular internet usage

Teju Salian

Will it will be easier for all parties once the draft rules are made public?

Nikhil Pahwa

In India, the TRAI will make recommendations to the Department of Telecom, which has its own committee. The DoT will do its own consultation, and then prepare draft rules, possibly. It's not very clear, to be honest.

Rashmi Lokar

If everyone agrees on the rules, why are we still talking about this?

Nikhil Pahwa

I think there's a difference in terms of how people define net neutrality. The TRAI consultation says that price discrimination is a part of Net Neutrality, but Airtel is saying that Airtel Zero doesn't violate NN. Facebook says doesn't violate NN. That's not factually correct. Read:

Nitin Deshmukh

Will Feb. 26 mark the end of this battle?

Nikhil Pahwa

Why Feb 26th? Not sure of where this will go, but we're hoping that the Indian government will do the right thing and pass a law that prevents violation of net neutrality. We also don't want licensing of services, which the TRAI consultation proposal states. you can read an abridged version at The 20 questions are scary

Ashutosh Mahata

what is net neutrality? How will it effect the in-house IT dett.

Nikhil Pahwa

Net Neutrality is about access service providers like telcos not discriminating between what you're accessing. So, not treating your usage of whatsapp, rediff, twitter, ola, zomato differently. Not charging differently, not speeding one up or slowing another down, or creating packs, so some services win vs others