Net Neutrality: The Battle In India

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Make sure nobody knows you're a dog on the internet

Make sure nobody knows you’re a dog on the internet

The United States has had its own share of issues with stringent government oversight and overreaching of private corporations into both private and public internet spaces. Turns out, India has had just as many problems. Bwogger Gabrielle Kloppers reports on Nikhil Pahwa, famous Indian internet activist and journalist, and his attempts to secure Indian net neutrality.

I filed into Davis Auditorium still mildly unsure as to what Net Neutrality actually meant, but I left with passionate and vocal ideas on the topic, partially due to an introduction regarding the struggle to find live cricket scores online in India.

Nikhil Pahwa, Editor and Publisher at MediaNama, as well as the leader of the Indian citizens’ movement to save net neutrality, appealed to an idea we all hold dear: the freedom to peruse all corners of the Internet without censure. That includes pornography, which he specifically used as an example of what would be lost if Net Neutrality didn’t prevail in India.

Two days ago, a monumental break was made in the years-long struggle to retain freedom of the Internet in India, a country where roughly 75% of the populace relies on cellular data for their browsing needs. The Indian government blocked Facebook’s plan to provide access to 30 small sites for free under a plan called ‘Free Basics’ after large-scale resistance, largely spurred by the public consultation led by Pahwa. This public consultation included about 1 million response emails, and is believed to be the largest response to a public consultation in India ever. It was through tireless work, including a public Google document with 34 pages of questions and answers about the movement, multiple performances by stand up comedians, and a general public information campaign that led to even members of parliament standing against Facebook’s new open platform.

This lecture, and the decision to block Free Basics raised key questions about Net Neutrality. Pahwa maintained that in the United States, Net Neutrality is largely centered around free speech, but for the Indian consumer pricing is the largest defining factor in determining consumer patterns. Thus, in this context, pricing is a violation of net neutrality and price differentiation would lead to discrimination that would alter the landscape of the Indian Internet.

How was Facebook’s plan different from general advertising to consumers, like when Chipotle offers free burritos through fliers under your door, asked one audience member. The key difference, Pahwa responded, is that on the Internet, the consumer is also a creator, and thus by restricting consumption you also inherently restrict creation, indelibly altering the Internet landscape.

This lecture was an important moment in the landscape-altering victory over Free Basics, as it prevented India from becoming the next ‘Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria’, where for many ‘Facebook is the internet’. For all Columbia students, the decision was also extremely important, as it means that more people around the world will be free to peruse Buzzfeed, Pornhub and Reddit while they should be studying, uniting us all in a common purpose: fully-facilitated procrastination.

Bwog irl via Wikimedia Commons

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