Monday, 13 April 2015

Time to do an Obama: Why Narendra Modi should support Net Neutrality

The ongoing net neutrality debate is heating up and reams are written down about why we should all support it.
Social media pages are being spammed with articles and petitions about keeping net neutrality intact in the country. It is fast becoming one of the biggest concerns gripping internet users in India, and eventually a hurdle in government's 'Digital India' dream.
With increasing internet penetration in India and the digital boom in start-ups, the lack of net neutrality is worrisome. It is essential for innovation and creating job opportunities. After all, big companies like Google, Twitter and several others were born out of the environment created by net neutrality.
Ever since Narendra Modi was sworn in as PM, the Indian government has adopted a very gung-ho approach to its 'Digital India' initiative. Social media played a huge role in Narendra Modi's election campaign, and is still a vital component of his governance initiatives.
Associated Press
Associated Press
So, in a country where the Prime Minister is using every social media platform to reach out to his people and speaking out aloud about his dream to empower every Indian through the digital medium, it becomes even more imperative for him to speak out in support of net neutrality in India.
Now, the numerous debates on net neutrality and all the noise online may go unheard by TRAI, but all it would take is a sentence or two from PM Modi to make a decisive difference.
A word from  the Prime Minister and TRAI would be more likely to reconsider its 'probable' plans to redefine internet as over-the-top (OTT) communications, e-commerce, internet cloud services, social media, web content and so on. TRAI and the telecom industry could no longer be the gate keeper to the content or media you access and there won't be any fast or slow lanes of the internet
In the past we've seen leaders like US president Barack Obama call upon the Federal Communications Commission -- which is similar to Trai -- to lay down the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality. "I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper,” he had said.
Obama had also acknowledged that the FCC (like TRAI) is an independent agency, but he made his own stance clear :“The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe,” his statement continues.
Now, this is exactly what Modi needs to do. Rather than be a silent observer, he needs to step in and make his views known. It would also give TRAI some political support  to make the right decision.
Obama's statement created a frenzy and added a whole new dimension to the net neutrality battle. Modi needs to follow suit especially since a digital India also needs to be a free and fair India. There is no point talking about it if he isn't prepared to follow through.
Secondly, it is also a chance for Modi to interact with the internet audience at their level. It is a chance for him to show that he cares not just about the big money but also about the people. Net Neutrality is important because it compares to equality in the real world. A statement from Modi will show that he understands the concerns of the digital population and that he is on their side.
And finally, it will show that Modi truly wants to rise above the red-tapism that holds back India. When Trai threatens to rob us of our internet freedom, can Modi play saviour? Can Modi tilt the scales in favour of the activists? Can he stand up for the start-ups? Can he stand up for smaller businesses?
If he can, it will be best propaganda that he could ever imagine. If one swoop, he will get rid on the critics that dog his every move and also show that he is truly a champion that India needs.