What Is Net Neutrality? Here's a Simple Explanation

What Is Net Neutrality? Here's a Simple Explanation

Trai is collecting public comments until April 24 on new rules that may let service providers charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of their traffic to users. Below are some details about the concept of "net neutrality" and how it may impact you.

What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means companies like Airtel should not block or slow down access to any website or content on the Web - for instance, to benefit their own services over those of competitors.

How can ISPs harm net neutrality?
ISPs have previously talked about charging extra for services like Skype that compete with its voice business. That's against the principle of net neutrality that asks for all traffic to be treated equally.

What is zero-rating?
Airtel has also announced a new service called Airtel Zero where it will offer customers free access to certain apps and services, with cost of this data traffic being borne by the partner. For example, if Flipkart signs up as an Airtel Zero partner, you will not be charged for data you use while accessing Flipkart, and Airtel will bill Flipkart for that session.

While that may sound great on paper, experts say that in the long term it's against consumer interests, because consumers are more likely to use free services. They say smaller companies, who cannot afford to subsidise consumer access to their websites and services, are likely to lose out, stifling innovation in the country, which means fewer options for consumers in the long run.

Of course Airtel is not alone in this, with Facebook's Internet.org operating on a similar principle, and various other apps have tie-up with telcos in the past to offer consumers free access to their services.

Who regulates this?
Trai, or Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, regulates all Internet access in India, and is currently in the process of forming the guidelines for all OTT players - essentially apps and services that operate over telco infrastructure like the Internet - that also includes subjects like net neutrality and zero rating.

What can I do?
The regulator is seeking the views of all stakeholders by April 24 - that includes consumers like you - and you can send your comments to advqos@trai.gov.in to let the regulator know where you stand.


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Further reading: Internet, Net Neutrality, Trai
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