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Govt vows to keep web access equal for everyone

By Kiran Rathee
November 24, 2017 16:56 IST
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India's stand is important against the backdrop of US FCC's decision to roll back its net neutrality rules adopted in 2015

At a time when the US’ Federal Communications Commission has decided to replace the net neutrality rules, the Indian government has vowed to keep cyberspace equal for everyone and not allow any firm to restrict people’s access to the web.


Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday that a couple of years ago when Facebook wanted to offer free services through Free Basics, the Centre had flatly refused to grant permission as it violated the equitablity principle.

“I was then handling the communications department, and this whole Free Basics campaign was going on...I took a very firm stand,” Prasad said, while speaking at the Global Conference on Cyberspace Security in New Delhi.

Prasad said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met him a number of times with the idea of Free Basics, that everything would be free if people entered through Facebook’s gate, namely education, health, entertainment, etc.

“I said India is a democracy and we don’t believe in one gate. We believe in multiple gates.

"Therefore, this gate-locking for India will not be accepted and I did not allow it.

"This stems (from) our commitment that the Internet must be accessible to all.”

Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said Trai was doing an industry-wide consultation on net neutrality, but the government had already made its stand clear a couple of years back.

Asked about the course of action on the subject, Prasad said, “The debate is going on, but you may recall my statement in Parliament.

"The right of access is not negotiable. Therefore, without going into the larger nuances of net neutrality in India, we have taken a new position; the right of access is important.”

India’s stand on the issue is important against the backdrop of US FCC’s decision to roll back its net neutrality rules adopted in 2015, when Barack Obama was president.

US-based Facebook had introduced the Free Basics programme in India in 2015 to offer free basic Internet access to people in partnership with telecom operators.

However, the programme was banned by the telecom regulator after net neutrality activists termed it against the principles of equitable internet access.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, echoed the same sentiments, saying net neutrality lowered the barriers of entry by preserving the internet as a fair and level-playing field, and helped businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive.

Photograph: Kham/Reuters

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Kiran Rathee in New Delhi
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