The Campaign Against ‘Enclosure of the Internet’

‘No to Digital Colonization’

By N. Gunasekaran

Voices favoring net neutrality, which is seen as the principle of no discrimination in access, speed, costs and content, are becoming strong in Asia. The tussle between the two opposing forces — Internet service providers as controllers of access, speed, costs and the platform providers as content producers — is also sharpening.

Last year, Indian mobile service provider Airtel announced plans to surcharge users of popular voice over Internet (VoIP) services such as Skype, Whatsapp and Viber. But Airtel had to retreat hastily from this step due to the enormous public criticism over the move. This led the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to launch a consultation on net neutrality issues.

In Asia, countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are often characterized as “broadband paradises,” in the sense that Internet access has a high quality and a low price. In these countries, defending net neutrality has now become a serious concern.

From the interests of the common people, control over the Internet is of vital importance. Defending net neutrality has become the struggle for democracy in India and in other Asian countries. This perspective has become the important plank of opposition parties in India. The opposition Congress Party, in spite of its neoliberal inclinations, is demanding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Narendra Modi to adhere to the principle of net neutrality.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, in a lengthy statement, said: “With Digital India, people will get more access to Internet — the whole Internet — and not primarily a filter on the Web. This is imperative for India to grow in the 21st century. I sincerely hope that the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) report and the Modi government will adhere to this bounded need espoused by millions of Indians.,”

Mr Gandhi, moreover, bluntly stated: “Digital India cannot become a euphemism for an Internet controlled by large remote corporations. Digital India should mean Internet connectivity as a public utility, open ended and generative.” This shows more light on the growing consciousness of a large section of Indian people over the issue of net neutrality.

The online communities, social movements and free software movements are trying to create awareness over the cause of net neutrality.

Loss of net neutrality would give leverage to big corporate telecom companies to control access to the Internet, and they could decide what people can see and for how much. Across Asia, progressive media, using variety of forms, including the social media, is speedily growing and reaching millions of people. Loss of net neutrality would freeze out small progressive media, due to their inability to pay global telecom companies to ensure their websites to be seen all over the world. They would be enslaved by big players in the Internet field.

The other dimension of net neutrality is the conflict between big business and small companies, called startups. The startups argued their case saying that “India should not be a target for digital colonisation or gate-keeping but a significant hub powering the global Internet.”

Sharad Sharma, cofounder of software product think tank iSPIRT, said: “Digital colonization is a real risk. The only way to manage this risk and have free digital marketplace is to have right protective policies in place. This includes net neutrality, startup-friendly (intellectual property rights) and support for digital identity.” These groups spearheaded the petition-campaign for net neutrality along with SaveTheInternet campaign volunteers.

One volunteer at the, a coalition of individuals who have been leading the fight for a neutral Internet, has warned that “Differential pricing, which includes zero-rating, will give disproportionate power to platforms and access service providers by giving them the ability to favor some services over others, hence friction for startups.” (See )

However, the Indian government has not responded to the popular demand that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)/Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) and the government should treat all data on Internet equally.

Net neutrality struggle is carried on online between telecom users and operators. Last year, more than 800,000 Indians have sent emails to India’s telecom regulator, demanding a free and fair internet. Activists in websites of and are actively pursuing the campaign.

On the other side was the aggressive ad-campaign by Facebook for its zero-rated platform, Free Basics. They falsely claimed that those in favor of net neutrality oppose free internet for the poor. Cartels between the telecom companies and a few global internet monopolies want to carry only a few hundred sites as against the 1 billion sites which people now have access to today. Also, the companies demand money to speed up certain sites or slow down others. This would curtail innovations and lead to further concentration of economic power on the internet.

The Left in India demanded “the universal access in the internet age” and demanded the government to create policies that would allow free, non-discriminatory internet services up to a limit for all users.

The Internet has to be preserved as a public utility since it allows common working people access to knowledge, services of all kinds, a means of global communications and a myriad of other needs. So the “enclosure of the Internet” by big corporations should be checked through wider unity.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2016

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