A request to Parliamentarians and Political Leaders from the SavetheInternet.in Coalition

The Internet has become an integral part of all of our lives. We use it to do our work, connect with people and gain knowledge about various subjects. As our representatives, many of you use it to gather research about the issues faced by your constituents, the challenges faced by different parts of our country, and the expert knowledge needed to legislate for India’s future and shape our national decisions. Today, the Internet in our country is facing the danger of losing its neutrality, which is vital to ensure that it grows to reach many more of our fellow Indians - and the people who use it innovate further. In the interest of furthering this cause, we have launched a campaign with fellow Indians who wish to ‘Save the Internet’.

This letter is addressed to Parliamentarians who have already taken or are considering taking a position on the recent consultation paper released by the TRAI for Internet licensing and net neutrality. We are grateful for the support we have received and the various public statements made by several of you which cut across party lines. Through this letter we wish to point out the intent and purpose of SavetheInternet.in campaign and also the call for a larger network neutrality law in India.

SavetheInternet.in is an apolitical collective, where various individuals, journalists, engineers, artists, web developers, policy experts and lawyers have come together in thier personal capacity to voice their conerns with respect to threats to the free and open character of the Internet. As of April 16, 2015, more than 750,000 individuals have sent submissions to TRAI on the present consultation after visiting www.savetheinternet.in - possibly an unprecedented reponse to any public consultation organised by a regulator in India. All of us are concerned by how our Internet is increasingly being threatened by:

  1. Misplaced arguments calling for additional regulations (nearly a new “license permit raj”) on Internet applications and services; and
  2. The absence of any network neutrality oversight in India on telecom operators. This presents an existential threat to the way the Internet is accessed in India, by failing to provide for a system to protect the public interest.

The Internet in India is already regulated by many law; many Parliamentarians have often publicly spoken about the comprehensive provisions of the Information Technology Act - and called for its reform in order to stop over-regulating the innovation and creativity of Indians online. Other sector specific laws overseen by the RBI and IRDA - such as regulations in the online payments, banking industry, and insurance - already exist. Despite this clear intent by Parliament and our Government as a whole, TRAI’s current paper has called for regressive measures as licensing Internet sites and apps. Such a proposal which would kill all innovation and the rapid growth of India’s technology sector - destroying the future of tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and hardworking young IT professionals along with throttling consumer choice. We therefore oppose any measure calling for the licensing of the Internet.

The second prong of the TRAI consultation revolves around network neutrality. Net neutrality requires that the Internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. This principle to preserve the free and open character of the Internet has been recognised by several fellow democracies - including Brazil, the United States, a number of South American countries, and support from the European Parliament.

The Government of India and TRAI need to urgently commit to a policy which outlines how net neutrality will be safeguarded. Some telecom companies operating in our country are increasingly engaging in commercial and technical practices which violate network neutrality - to the detriment of consumer interest, free competition and innovation between Internet businesses. In particular, attention needs to be paid to the recent practice of “zero rating” some select services - where access to a specific website or online application is given for free as the discretion of the telecom operator. Several countries have also chosen to carefully oversee and regulate this practice of “zero rating” services - or have given only case-by-case approvals to ensure that they do not skew incentives and create entry barriers for young entrepreneurs. They also affect user behaviour destroying the free and open basis on which the internet functions.

It is also surprising for us that telecom companies have shown little respect or adopted a policy of forbearance during this period of consultation organised by the TRAI by rolling out and announcing such services. We believe that that this is unfortunate since it appears to be with a view towards consolidating violations of network neutrality as a norm. We request all parliamentarians and political parties urgently call for a policy of forbearance on such practices enforced by TRAI while the present consultation is progressing.

Finally, we urge with the utmost humility that - just like the Internet - the present effort should not to be appropriated by any individual, organisation or political party. We are an apolitical group and do not have any party allegiances, but we are grateful at the support shown to our concerns by political leaders across India’s political spectrum. We hope the cause of a free and open Internet continues receiving support from all people committed to our democracy.