Can the Modi sarkar #savetheinternet? Telecom ministry likely to support net neutrality

In all the furore over net neutrality, the central government has been a relatively mute spectator so far, but now Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoken out, promising 'non-discriminatory' internet access.

"I can assure that the young Internet entrepreneurs, the startups and all the creators, that the government stands by their concerns. I assure them that we will work towards a non-discriminatory net regime. Please have patience," Prasad said on Monday.

"We all need to strive for a non-discriminatory Internet regime," he said.

 Can the Modi sarkar #savetheinternet? Telecom ministry likely to support net neutrality

PTI image

The government had thus far chosen to stay on the sidelines even as the debate raged on telecom companies introducing plans like Airtel Zero which allows customers to access a variety of mobile applications for free, with the data charges being paid by start-ups and large companies. So is Prasad's remark a sign of an emerging government position in support of net neutrality?

A Times of India report says that despite Prasad not stating it explicitly, the government may be leaning towards the same.

As we’ve pointed out earlier, it makes sense for the Prime Minister, whose election campaign leaned heavily on the internet and support online, to speak out in favour of net neutrality, much like Barack Obama did in the United States.

Like the US telecom regulator, India’s telecom regulator is also an independent body but its recommendations finally have to be accepted or rejected by the government. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has already received over 1.5 lakh emails in support of net neutrality and the number is only going to rise in the coming days as the 24 April deadline approaches.

Oppsition parties have begun to raise their voices over the issue with current Internet favourite, BJD MP Tathagath Sathpaty, already writing to Trai in support of neutrality. Congress’s Milind Deora has also spoken out against such schemes.Even belligerent allies like Shiv Sena, who have constantly been targeting the government’s policies, and Aaditya Thackeray has said that his party will raise the issue in Parliament.

The stage then has been set for the Prime Minister to sweep in and make the most of the goodwill that will follow if he takes a strong, unequivocal position. An endorsement of net neutrality by Modi would be a shot in the arm for his legion of online fans, and a blow to opponents who would like nothing better than a new stick with which to beat the government.

The Prime Minister does have the option of also waiting for the Trai report, and allowing the telecom ministry evaluate it and then finally let the government endorse net neutrality. That would be a slower process and would give his opponents more ammunition against a Prime Minsiter they accuse of expediently staying mute on controversial issues.Speaking up now will instead be a win-win situation as Modi  can then be seen as leading from the front, rather than waiting on protocol. And for better or worse, it is likely to have an impact on Trai's own evaluation. And if Trai does end up on the right side of the net neutrality debate, Modi can rightfully claim credit. Whether he will seize the opportunity for such a PR bonanza, however, remains uncertain for now.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2015 13:40:09 IST