Reports are surfacing that India has become the latest country to enshrine network neutrality in law.
Reports are surfacing that suggest India is joining an ever growing list of countries enshrining network neutrality into law. Network neutrality, of course, is the principle that ISPs must treat all data flowing across their networks equally. It also means that ISPs can’t favour certain websites or services, block, or impede certain forms of traffic.
With India enshrining such concepts into law, it joins an ever growing list of countries to do so. From CNET:
India has long pushed for net neutrality laws, which follow the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. In November, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India reportedly recommended that internet access in the country remain non-discriminatory, and that there be no throttling, blocking or preferential treatment.
“Any deviations and violations of the rules of net neutrality — which come into effect almost immediately — will be met with stiff penalties,” Department of Telecommunications secretary Aruna Sundararajan told The Times of India.
The Department of Telecommunications didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Canada decided to push ahead with network neutrality. At the time, the United States was actively moving to dismantling it – which it ultimately did back in December at the regulatory level. While the battle to restore network neutrality in the US is still ongoing, Canada’s move was seen by many as a way to distinguish itself from the United States.
Now, with India joining that list of countries that respects network neutrality, the US is becoming increasingly isolated in this area of tech policy. You now have two countries moving to make network neutrality law or policy while the US is actively dismantling them.
Looking back over a decade of this debate, this situation playing out would be unimaginable even by some of the most experienced observers of tech policy. In my earlier years of reporting (around 2005 and later), the concept of network neutrality was basically a weird concept. People advocating for network neutrality at the time were basically seen as odd people to put it kindly.
Of course, back then, ISPs didn’t exactly have big stakes in broadcasting. Different studios and broadcast stations were much more separate from the ISP industry. So, the question back then is whether or not ISPs would even consider blocking or throttling traffic for their own business advantage. Initially, the reasonable answer is “no” for the simple reason that anything that degrades the web experience would mean competitors would swoop in for all the subscribers who would flee from a restricted Internet.
A short time later, ISPs began toying with the idea of injecting ads into users web browsing sessions. This is really where people began to think that network neutrality isn’t such a crazy idea after all. From there, ISPs began throttling P2P traffic such as eDonkey2000 which compelled client developers to implement protocol obfuscation. Others also tried to throttle streaming video at the time as well.
From there, ISPs then started throttling BitTorrent traffic. While some try to say that the debate surrounding network neutrality only started when BitTorrent began being throttled, the debate extended further back then that. The throttling of BitTorrent did help push the debate much more closer into the mainstream, but it wasn’t the very beginning of the debate.
We eventually began seeing ad campaigns by ISPs such as this infamous one in 2008:
By the time this ad was seen by many American’s, network neutrality really became part of the mainstream debate amongst tech observers. The Obama administration then compelled regulators to enshrine network neutrality into law. Some observers were not a fan because they saw any regulation as a threat, but by today, most of those skeptics wound up being on side with those regulations even if it contained flaws.
With the additional twist of the Trump administration ditching the rules, we now enter into a phase in the debate which would be completely unthinkable at the beginning. This crazy weird idea of network neutrality that was cast aside as nothing more than some random silly notion is now the gold standard in Internet policy. Ditching those rules is now the crazy unthinkable idea at this stage.
Yes, ISPs are now conglomerating with studio’s and the broadcast industry. So, yes, things have changed between 2005 and today from the business perspective. In retrospect, though, it is really quite remarkable how much things have changed between then and now. Now, you have the US ditching network neutrality and American’s freaking out because of the move. Now you have other countries implementing and enshrining those laws. As a result, you now have the image of the US looking like it is imploding because that country is one of the only countries in the world dismantling network neutrality. The countries implementing these rules are, at the same time, looking enlightened by comparison.
So, at the end of the day, the network neutrality debate has really become something that would be unrecognizable in its infancy. It’s almost breathtaking, really. Because network neutrality is now seen by many as the standard to strive for, it is a really positive thing for the debate because it means that so many are striving for this. With India jumping into the fold, it only strengthens how healthy network neutrality can become despite what is happening in the US.