How people power took on big business in the fight for net neutrality in India

How people power took on big business in the fight for net neutrality in India

At the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Jan Koum, chief executive of WhatsApp, made an announcement that would cause much unease 4,000 miles away in New Delhi. “We want to make sure people always have the ability to stay in touch with their friends and loved ones really affordably,” he said. “We’re going to introduce voice on WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year.”

India’s telecom operators were less than enthusiastic about this announcement.. With more than 70m users in India, the instant messaging platform has emerged as one of the most popular alternatives to conventional text messaging – enough to make telecom operators jittery.

It isn’t surprising then that at the same event, India’s telecoms operators made it clear that they wanted a revenue-sharing agreement with internet companies. They believed that services such as WhatsApp’s voice-calling feature would potentially cut the revenue generated by voice calls and text messages.

In essence, telecom operators wanted the internet to be mouldable, to be shaped in any way they liked. After all, India is one of the world’s fastest-growing internet markets, with 851m connections according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) figures .

Telecom companies know this and profit from the internet services they provide to mobile phone users. For instance, major Indian networks like Airtel added 7.46m 3G internet connections, Vodafone 11.4m and Idea Cellular 7.1m in the past four quarters, according to Yet they want greater control of how people use the internet on mobile phones.

On 27 March, the telecoms regulator released a “consultation paper” in which it made a series of recommendations to deal with the growth of internet services and apps. The key cornerstones of this 118-page minefield of legalese and jargon advocate the licensing of internet companies, along with killing the network neutrality that exists in India today.

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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