Net neutrality: A socialist idea whose time has come

By accepting net neutrality, the government has proved that it is committed to socialism.

 

You can trust India to remain faithfully wedded to the big-state dogma. By accepting the principle of net neutrality, which prohibits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from favouring or discriminating against certain content in any way, the government has once again proved that it is committed to socialism.

For net neutrality is nothing but cyber socialism. Merriam-Webster defines net neutrality as “the idea, principle, or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination”. On the face of it, this seems unexceptionally nice; after all, there is nothing wrong in expecting or demanding same treatment. There shouldn’t be any discrimination, right?

Wrong, for the parties affected by net neutrality are ISPs, most of which were private; and, by imposing conditions on them, the state tends to unnecessarily control them. It is socialism through the backdoor.

This is the reason that the government approved it. “The Telecom Commission today approved net neutrality as recommended by TRAI except some critical services which will be kept out of its purview,” Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters on Wednesday.

For the same reason, Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive Officer of the Prime Minister-headed Niti Aayog, opined, “Everybody in the meeting today said that digital infrastructure is even more important than physical infrastructure for India.” Further, he added, “for districts, we must ensure digital infrastructure is provided at the earliest… which is why India must have ease of doing business and enabling policy environment.”

It may be recalled that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or Trai had favoured restrictions on ISPs in November last year. It had barred them from entering into agreements which may lead to discriminatory treatment of content on the Internet. Trai chairman R.S. Sharma had said at the time: “Internet should remain an open platform. Nobody owns Internet and, therefore, Internet belongs to everybody… There should be no discrimination; this should be the overarching principle…”

Unsurprisingly, the telecom regulator had recommended: “Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.”

Typically, as in any socialist provision, there are exceptions, thus keeping the door open for political and bureaucratic discretion: “This principle [of net neutrality] would apply to any discriminatory treatment based on the sender or receiver, the network protocols, or the user equipment, but not to specialised services or other exclusions. It would also not restrict adoption of reasonable traffic management practices by the service provider.”

And what, pray, are the exclusions? “Any measures adopted by the Licensee that are proportionate, transient and transparent in nature and fall under any of the following categories: Reasonable traffic management practices, as may be further specified by Trai from time to time; Provision of emergency services or any services provided during times of grave public emergency…; Implementation of any order of a court or direction issued by the government, in accordance with law; Measures taken in pursuance of preserving the integrity and security of the network and equipment; and Measures taken in pursuance of an international treaty…”

What is happening in India over net neutrality is in sharp contrast to the same in the United States. President Donald Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh, who is against net neutrality, for the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh believes that “the net neutrality rule is unlawful and must be vacated”.

The Right in the US is fighting against net neutrality. Marina Medvin, a conservative columnist, recently wrote, “People who originally fought for net neutrality were afraid of ‘unregulated capitalism.’ Red flags all over the place.”

She pointed out that “Net neutrality didn’t even exist until three years ago when the Democrats passed the rules through the Democrat-controlled FCC [Federal Communications Commission]. Was anyone feeling that their Internet opportunities were hindered before 2015? Anyone? Anyone?”

And, in our country, we have a government that is promoting socialism all over the place. It has done it in indirect taxation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously said in a recent interview that Mercedes and milk can’t have the same goods & services tax or GST rate despite the difference in price.

With net neutrality, socialism has scored another goles .