Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites. The principle objective of net neutrality is that “all the Internet traffic has to be treated equally without any discrimination”; but this has had different interpretations over varied contexts. The explicit arrangement has been that private owner access to the publicly owned spectrum and rights of way necessary to exploit the technology is exchanged for public access and speech rights. Similarly, the telephone company monopoly’s use of public rights of way came with common carrier non-discrimination obligations. The broadcaster’s receipt of exclusive use of a coveted radio spectrum license came with public trustee obligations; and a cable operator’s essentially exclusive local franchise came with obligations to provide public, educational and government access channels. Except under very limited circumstances (violation of criminal law), the telephone company could not deny service based on content. And, while the broadcaster’s programming choices were largely insulated from government oversight, the broadcaster was still responsible for providing public access to news, public affairs and political speech. Finally, the cable operator could exercise substantial editorial control over most channels, but larger cable systems had to set aside channel capacity for the public.
Considering the above principles of net neutrality, proliferation of broadband by public Wi-Fi networks will basically raise two net neutrality issues:
- Localization of certain data for cheaper and faster accessibility inherently violates the basic principles on net neutrality. This is because in a non-discriminatory internet all the traffic has to be treated equally without any discrimination. However, in this approach specific nature of data is being given priority over the rest of the data.
- There are arguments stating that raising required infrastructure for proliferation of broadband through public Wi-Fi networks requires substantial investment over long period of time. Under such circumstances opening up access to entire web with a partially developed infrastructure is highly problematic. Content requiring high bandwidth, like streaming a video, may result in multiple users being unable to access internet due to reduced speed or no access to internet at all. Considering the fact that substantial investment cannot be raised overnight, selective content access may be used to make access of internet a pleasing experience for the users. Overtime selective access will yield profits that can be re-invested in the development of physical infrastructure. Further, it is also argued that selective access will ensure development of freely available Wi-Fi at public places like airports, cafes etc. This is perhaps due to the fact that investment requirements for a selective access web will be low and can be covered by product sales for cafes, shops etc.
Researcher is of the opinion that despite of all the infrastructure and policy considerations, selective access is against the core principles of net neutrality. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s ruling dated February 8, 2016, rules against this approach. However, regulation 6may be used by the authority to relax norms in this case. Further, if above mentioned guidelines with respect to determining nature of data of community interest are considered, relaxations can be granted considering that it is the government and the local community that discriminates data, and not the ISPs or the content developers. While the same might not be true in case of arguments with respect to infrastructural development requiring substantial investment, initial incentives have to be provided. Lastly, free public Wi-Fi should not be brought under the ambit of net neutrality. However, the same can be limited to only small stores and cafes, and content developers or ISPs may not be allowed to do the same.
 PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATORY TARIFFS FOR DATA SERVICES REGULATIONS, 2016.