Public policy making is a continuous process that has many feedback loops. It is undertaken in multiple phases by various agencies. In this long process numerous individuals and interest groups compete and collaborate to influence policy making agencies to act in favor of their goals. We, the Internet users and Mozillians in this country, engage in these discussions, along with Mozilla to ensure that the values of free and open Web are enshrined in the policies formed on net neutrality. This process of churning usually culminates in a solid policy, which will later be the cornerstone of many Internet related laws and procedures and therefore has far reaching implications.
After the TRAI’s consultation process in April, which received 1 million plus responses from Indian Internet users, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) committee report on net neutrality and the mygov.in forum inviting suggestions or feedback on it have now readied the ring for another round of public debate on the subject of net neutrality. Continuing the momentum from the previous occasion in support of a free and open Internet was necessary and that is why last week the Mozilla India Policy and Advocacy Task Force urged all Internet users to raise their voices again
Representing Mozilla, Denelle Dixon-Thayer, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Business Affairs, expressed our appreciation and concerns in a letter (dated 20/8/15) to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology. Earlier in May 2015 Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, had written to the Prime Minister of India requesting the government for strong net neutrality protections to defend the openness and vibrance of the Web.
Excerpts from Mozilla’s Comments on the Department of Telecommunications Committee Report on Net Neutrality below
We commend the DoT’s recognition that protecting net neutrality is a policy imperative for India. In line with the findings of your report, and noting the extensive public debate around net neutrality in India, the importance of net neutrality to fostering innovation and competition, and the calls of more than a million Indians and more than 450 startups speaking out for real protections for the open Internet, we respectfully urge you and your government to propose strong, enforceable rules against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization.
Protecting Open Internet in the Interim
We share the Committee’s concern that it may take considerable time to draft, enact, and bring into force a comprehensive set of legislative rules protecting net neutrality and the open Internet. As such, we encourage your government to explore the use of existing regulatory powers to ensure the adequate protection of Indian innovators and the open Internet in the interim.
Suggesting policy of equal rating
On May 2015, Mozilla explained its official view on zero rating in a blog post. The same view is expressed in Mitchell Baker’s letter to the Prime Minister of India. Based on this Mozilla suggests a policy of equal rating.
We also share the Committee’s belief that bringing all Indians online should be a national public policy priority. However, we would encourage your government to explicitly pursue a policy of connecting all people to the entire Internet, rather than just a handful of websites chosen by new and/or existing gatekeepers.
While zero-rating does not at first pass invoke the prototypical harms of throttling, blocking, or paid prioritization, all of which involve technical differentiation in traffic management, it does raise many of the same anti-competitive and anti-innovation concerns. Giving one company (or a handful) the ability to reach users at no cost to them, zero-rating could limit rather than expand a user’s access to the Internet and ultimately chill competition and innovation. The promise of the Internet as a driver of innovation is that anyone can make anything and share it with anyone, whether they be a tech giant in Silicon Valley or three developers in an apartment in Bangalore.
We suggest a policy of “equal rating.” Equal rating is a service that provides free or low-cost access to the entire Internet for people around the world who otherwise can’t afford it. Equal rating users would see the same open and free Internet as anyone paying full price.
We understand the temptation to say “some content is better than no content,” choosing a lesser degree of inclusion over openness and equality of opportunity. But it shouldn’t be a binary choice; technology and innovation can create a better way, even though these new models may take some time to develop. Furthermore, choosing limited inclusion today, even though it offers short-term benefits, poses significant risk of the emergence of an open, competitive platform that will ultimately stifle inclusion and economic development.
On licensing regime
As the Committee’s report discusses, a central pillar of net neutrality and a major contributing force to the Internet’s success has been the concept of “innovation without permission.” This concept, allowing anyone to develop a new technology, to write code and test in the public, and to control the code running on their machines is the lifeblood of the open Internet and the ethos of open source. As Mitchell wrote in regards to a similar proposal by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, any mandatory licensing scheme would prove onerous and “increase the costs of creating on the Web, thereby discouraging Indian entrepreneurs from building the next Internet giant. What’s more, establishing an enabling environment for development on the Web creates a virtuous cycle that provides more value to existing users and incentivizes new users to come online.” To this end, we respectfully caution you from proposing any licensing regimes on Internet services or Over-The-Top (OTT) applications, as doing so would only serve to create legal uncertainty, chill innovation, and hurt the promise of Digital India
The letter ends elucidating the scope and opportunities that lie in front of India with a regulation that supports net neutrality.
Even as some countries are already moving forward to enshrine net neutrality into law, India has an opportunity to be a leader on the world stage by enacting protections to ensure that India’s countless innovators and entrepreneurs have the level playing field needed to develop the next Google, Facebook, or Firefox. Many countries already look to India for leadership on Internet policy issues, and we believe that net neutrality is no exception
Read the entire letter (PDF)
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