Telecom minister, Rahul Gandhi spar over net neutrality

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday accused the government of floating a “trial balloon” on net neutrality even as Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said his regime was in favour of free and fair access to the World Wide Web.

In his second intervention in the Lok Sabha since his return from a 56-day sabbatical, Gandhi raised the issue of net neutrality and said: “Every youth should have a right to the net. But the government is trying to hand over the internet to some corporates.”

He said: “I would request the government to please change the law or make a new law to ensure net neutrality.”

The 44-year-old Congress leader continued with his support for net neutrality outside the house as well.

“If the government wanted to protect net neutrality, why did it begin a consultation. It is a trial balloon to see if the reaction is strong. We are giving a strong reaction so that the process is closed.”

Gandhi also found support in the new general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, Sitaram Yechury, a Rajya Sabha member.

Broadband user image by Google

“I think ours is the only party which has passed a motion on this in its national congress,” Yechury said.

Prasad, who also spoke both inside and outside the house, said: “This government appreciates the net activism of the youth. Our prime minister (Narendra Modi) has said we have to make the net available without discrimination.”

The minister said there was, indeed, the need for mobile governance, and the government wanted the net to reach everybody.

“Neither is our government under pressure of any corporate nor will it ever be.”

Referring to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) initiating a debate on the matter, the minister said the watchdog has the mandate to debate, but it is the government that has the power to take a decision.

“We want to ensure internet for everybody. We have asked for a report within two weeks.”

Network neutrality, or open inter-working, means that in accessing the World Wide Web, one is in full control over how to go online, where to go and what to do as long as these are lawful. It advocates that firms that provide internet services should treat all lawful internet content in a neutral manner.

In March, telecom regulator TRAI released a paper inviting comments from users and companies on how over-the-top services should be regulated in the country. It has asked stakeholders to send suggestions by April 24 and counter-arguments need to be submitted by May 8.

A committee on net neutrality was also set up by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which will submit its report by the second week of May to help the government make a comprehensive decision on the contentious issue.