Citizens of the Indian internet. What I am about to ask of you is unprecedented. So unprecedented in fact, that to some my request may seem impossible. I need us to put aside our differences (waits for gasping and shouting to die down) and unite. That’s right, I’m talking to you, NamoBhakt303, and YOU Libtard4Lyf, and even you #AAPIAN. Let us cease our petulant squabbling for a moment. We all want to outrage and run #ShameOnHashtags and mine the depths of the internet for old incriminating statements that we can fling at each other. But if we do not unite and fight, we may soon cease to have a space where we can be our immature, ridiculous, cat GIF-loving selves. Because the neutral internet as we know it today could be gone very soon.
The internet gives an equal opportunity for business and progress to everyone, whether you’re an established, well-funded online shopping site, or just one guy starting an online-retail operation from his bedroom. But all of that could change. Very very soon. Representation pic/Thinkstock
What makes the internet amazing is that all data is created equal. An email you send your boss asking for leave to go to Bangkok is (as a piece of data) as equal as Facebook photographs of your holiday in Bangkok, which in turn is as equal as a Google search for “strange spots on genital area”, which is as equal as a BuzzFeed story about how “This Man Went To Bangkok and You’ll Never Believe What Grew On His Genitals Next.”
The internet also works on the idea that once you pay for a certain connection speed, all data you request and send on that connection travels at the same speed, no matter what site that data is coming from. No single website has the right to pay a telecom operator more money to make their data go faster than a competitor’s. This is one of those fundamentals that makes the internet democratic, and gives an equal opportunity for business and progress to everyone, whether you’re an established, well-funded online shopping site, or just one guy starting an online-retail operation from his bedroom.
But all of that could change. Very very soon.
Because right now, the internet in India is under the greatest threat it’s faced in… uh, the two weeks that have passed since 66A went away. As you read this, telecom operators are petitioning the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to allow them to carve the internet up into distinct, little areas that you, as a user, would have to pay for separately. If TRAI ratifies this, you could be looking at a system where you have to pay 100 rupees just to access WhatsApp and Facebook, another 100 just to access Twitter, another extra 100 just to access online shopping sites, and so on and so forth. It’s a level of greed so ludicrous that it would even make Suresh Kalmadi go “Bro thoda zyaada ho gaya.”
And that’s just one part of it. Under the new framework of rules that telecom operators are proposing, a well-funded website could hypothetically pay a telecom operator to make their speeds faster, while strangling the speeds of competitors, the online equivalent of Shakti Kapoor setting Mithun Chakraborty’s godown on fire in an 80s movie.
And if that sounds like a far-flung dystopian future, it isn’t, because TRAI is going to decide on this issue one month from now. And they’ve published a consultation paper on their website that helpfully allows you to read about the issue, except I’m a little suspicious of where TRAI’s loyalties lie because
>> They only published the paper a week ago
>> in a corner on their own website
>> and it’s 118 pages long, and
>> full of obfuscating jargon, and best of all,
>> rather conveniently, TRAI has given internet users only until April 24th to respond and petition them to stop it.
Someone at TRAI has clearly used the internet enough to know that if you spread diabolical conditions in boring jargon over 118 pages, then internet users will probably just ignore them all and blindly click I AGREE.
But this is where we need to unite and stop this from happening. You can email TRAI right now, at email@example.com with a subject line to the effect of “Keep the internet neutral” or “Save the internet”, and if enough of us spam TRAI, they’ll have no choice but to listen to us. For our right to cat videos, and our right to call each other names on an open, fair platform, please do it?
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi