What the block! Our net neutrality rules require a monitoring and enforcement structure #SaveTheInternet

Internet Freedom Foundation has been actively engaging with the issues of net neutrality ever since our triumphant win for open and non-discriminatory access to the Internet. We emerged victorious when net neutrality in India acquired solid footing through recommendations issued by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) prohibiting Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services. In brief, we explained how TRAI recognised the principle of non-discrimination broadly interpreted with good reason, providing understandable exceptions along with a mechanism for transparency and accountability. However, over the years in extensively covering this issue, we have become privy to various bumps in the supposed unhindered existence of net neutrality in India.

Currently, a particularly concerning threat to net neutrality, looms the web. IFF has been engaging with users for a few months gathering evidence through its online reporting form of extensive blocking carried out by not just one but various ISP’s. In a previous post, we disclosed a data sheet and provided a summary of the reports based on information collected.

Updated Summary

  1. Over the month, the number of reports provided to us has seen a considerable increase now standing at a total of 171 responses of blocking, beginning January, 2019 to March 8, 2019.
  2. A large portion of our findings are mobile internet users at 62.9% while 29.3% are wired connections, graphically represented below as well.
  3. Reports show that blockings conducted by Hathway have begun more recently over the past month and a half restricting access to Proxy Services, Virtual Private Networks and majorly the Telegram website.
  4. Over the past few days, there have been increasing complaints against Jio for the blocking of Reddit in cities ranging from Bangalore, Chennai, to Pune and Noida.

Seeing is believing

Understandably, one would assume a direct correlation between illegality/immorality and blocking. However, this is far from true. It has spared no corner of the web, from pornography, proxy and torrent sites, VPNs to even mainstream platforms like Archive.org, Telegram and Soundcloud. Most recently, we discovered reports as from various users as in the summary above, that even Reddit has been blocked specifically on Jio GigaFiber, if accessed without VPN. We provide a few instances below to exemplify our reports since naturally, seeing is believing. However, we go beyond it to active monitoring of ISPs by the DOT for compliance and eventually towards remedy.


Is it a violation, you ask?

This blocking trend has raised significant concerns regarding its impact on net neutrality. The fundamental aspect in maintaining net neutrality is the equal treatment of all data with no restriction on the access choices of the user. The Department of Telecommunication in the amendments it carried out, aim to ensure this. Ideally, this created a prohibition on internet service providers from either speeding up, slowing down, restricting choice, bandwidth and the ability to access anything on the Internet.

It is important to understand the illegality behind these current swarm of blockings:

  • Violation of Net Neutrality – Firstly, an ISP is not permitted to engage in any discriminatory treatment of content. Discriminatory here indicates any form of discrimination, restriction or interference in the way it treats content – it goes on to include practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment. Therefore, in light of our current block-mania, it is in clear violation of net neutrality.
  • Type of Practice – Secondly, even if such practices are engaged, there is a mandate on ISP’s to be proportionate, transient and transparent and can be carried out only under specific conditions. We have examined a variety of reports concluding that there has been no explanation by the ISP’s for the blocking; the continuity over the last few months clearly it not temporary and neither has it been conducted transparently with no information being provided by the
  • ISP Requirements – Thirdly, the conditions it fails to comply with are of particular importance to us. These practices can be conducted if an ISP is reasonably managing trafficproviding emergency services during a grave public emergency, in order preserve integrity and security of the network/equipment, in pursuance of an international treaty and most applicable to us, in implementation of a court order or Government direction. Evidently, the latter is especially not the reason as per an RTI request (Read here for more).

Additionally, what is of further concern is the absence of mechanism that monitors, reports and provides users with a medium to lodge complaints against ISP’s, as a safeguard. In an earlier submission to TRAI and the DOT, we suggested there be an enforcement mechanism of sorts, in line with the recommendations made by TRAI. This will provide users with a well established redressal process to address net neutrality violations. We are in dire need of transparency and an enforcement mechanism as the number of merely recorded reports are becoming increasingly commonplace.

From Internet Freedom (originally published on 9 March 2019)

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