Since 2015, IT for Change has been actively engaged in influencing the policy debate on net neutrality in India, undertaking policy research and advocacy. We carried out a field research in New Delhi on patterns of access and use of the Internet that demonstrated the critical importance of universal access to the full Internet, for marginalised women's empowerment. This research bolstered our efforts to re-conceptualise net neutrality, from the standpoint of Internet egalitarianism, and we were able to come out with the following cutting-edge framing of the issue:
1. Net neutrality is a positive right and not just a negative one. Therefore, the idea of net neutrality is not just about creating a level-playing field online;it is equally about universalising access to the Internet.
2. India needs a neutrality framework that allows for positive discrimination for universal access. Net neutrality legislation should permit mobile-based public services/ essential services provided by public sector agencies to all citizens. Such instances of positive discrimination should be seen as a valid exemption, and not a violation, of the principles of net neutrality.
We inputed this perspective into the series of consultations that TRAI convened on differential pricing, regulatory frameworks for Over-the-Top services, and net neutrality principles for India, between 2015-17.
Around differential pricing in particular, there was a massive public debate in 2016 -- especially as the TRAI consultation coincided with Facebook's move to launch the Free Basics zero service in India, positioning it as an effective strategy for digital equality in India. In addition to our engagement with formal consultative processes, we engaged with the popular debate on the issue, writing a set of op-eds in leading dailies, explaining how we viewed market-led zero services as a violation of Internet egalitarianism. See 'What Free Basics did not intend to do' and 'Free Basics, now through the backdoor'.
We also went on to critically reflect on the numerous strands in the debate to produce a research paper on 'Internet governance as ideology in practice' for the Internet Policy Review, unpacking the numerous contestations around 'openness' in design, 'inclusion' in provisioning and 'empowerment' in use, that were reflected in the consultation.