This Article has been authored by Sejal Gupta, a student at Nirma University, Ahmedabad.


Net neutrality is often associated with the principles that guide the handling of traffic circulating over Internet networks. However, the lack of a precise and concrete de­finition has led to different interpretations by different agents. For some, net neutrality refers to the need to ensure the openness of the Internet, preserving users’ free and non-discriminatory access to content, applications or services available on the Internet. For others, net neutrality instead implies that all data on the Internet should be treated equally.[i]

History of net neutrality

There has been de facto net neutrality in India since 1998 when Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were first permitted to begin operations in the country. However, in December 2006, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)[ii] released a consultation paper stating that this de facto net neutrality could be disrupted in the future by ISPs. According to the TRAI consultation report, ISPs will discriminate against rival apps and service providers in the absence of Net Neutrality Regulations. As a result, TRAI sought input from stakeholders about whether there should be legal requirements for Net Neutrality or whether it should be left to market powers.

With Reliance and Airtel's announcements about and Airtel Zero[iii], Net Neutrality in India has been severely harmed, as predicted. These two sites were developed to offer free internet. Free Internet is appealing, but one must keep in mind that you will only use services/apps that have made a contract with telecom firms (telecoms). Smaller software developers, especially newcomers, who cannot afford Airtel or Reliance's data prices, would be at a distinct disadvantage. Those who backed Facebook's Free Basics or Airtel Zero should be aware that they were effective against Net Neutrality. Ex-TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar also said that what Airtel or Facebook attempted to do was against Net Neutrality. He went on to say that it was not unconstitutional because India did not have a rule upholding net neutrality.

In response to these attacks on net neutrality in India, the TRAI issued a consultation paper on over-the-top-services (OTT) and net neutrality on March 27, 2015, for public comment. The deadline to send comments was April 24, 2015, and TRAI got over a million e-mails. After considering input from various stakeholders, the TRAI banned telecom service providers from charging differentiated rates for data services on February 8, 2016, effectively ruling out Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel's Zero network. The long-awaited 'Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016' from the TRAI reported that:

1. No service provider can charge or provide differential data service tariffs based on quality.

2. No service provider shall enter into any deal, agreement, or contract with any individual, natural or lawful, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being provided or paid by the service provider to circumvent the prohibition in this regulation.

3. A reduced tariff has been allowed for obtaining or delivering emergency assistance and during periods of national emergency.

4. Financial penalties for violating the law have since been created.

5. These regulations can be reviewed by TRAI after a two-year cycle.

Net Neutrality in India

The government had enacted no statutes, laws, or acts regarding Internet Service Providers and their jurisdiction over user freedom and liberty. However, due to the involvement of private players in the telecom industry, independent regulations were required. Thus, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India was created by an Act of Parliament, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, with effect from February 20, 1997, to control telecom services, including the fixation/revision of tariffs for telecom services that were previously vested in the Central Government.

Controversy: Facebook and Airtel

India has had its justifiable share of controversy around Facebook s, and Airtel Zero, which promised internet access at a minimal price, if not free. Obviously, it came at a price. Just in case you missed the excitement round the two offerings, to chop an extended story short, TRAI (Telecom regulatory agency of India) issued recommendations in favour of net neutrality. And even the netizens supported the #SaveTheInterent campaign, due to which Facebook had to kill its free internet initiative. Facebook and Airtel Zero controversy If you remember the first internet days (somewhere round the year 2008 with GPRS connectivity), Orange (now Vodafone) offered Orange Live platform whereas Airtel offered Airtel Live. Basically, these portals were freed from charge, and only offered users to get and download mobile games, wallpapers, ringtones, videos and more. It had been fine in those days where mobile phones and networks weren’t powerful enough, and internet was just penetrating. But, with the present Smartphone era, the market seems to possess changes. Consumer preferences have undergone a massive change, for example video streaming is a clear favourite among teens now. Why did and Airtel Zero irk so many?

In a bid to supply affordable internet to the users, Facebook started its initiative with access to pick internet services. Airtel Zero also had an identical model. At a look, it seemed good for users as they didn’t need to buy data plans to use the web. They might simply head over to their web