Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi persisted with his bid to brand the Centre as “pro-industry” with a second intervention in Parliament in just three days, this time claiming that net neutrality is being sacrificed in order to hand over internet space to the industry.
On Wednesday, he charged the Narendra Modi government of trying to hand over the internet space to big corporates.
The government denied the charge, with Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserting that Modi is a votary of net neutrality. Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Rahul said every youth should have access to internet. He called for the scrapping of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) consultation paper on the issue and asked that a new law be written on net neutrality.
One million people have voted for net neutrality, he said, adding that the TRAI consultation paper is a “trial balloon”. Speaking to reporters outside the House, Rahul again insisted that the net neutrality debate is a “trial balloon” floated by the Centre to hand over the internet space to corporates.
“If you have to protect net neutrality, why did you begin the consultation process? It was a trial balloon. First shoot the trial balloon, see the reaction. That is why we are opposing it tooth and nail,” he said.
Linking the net neutrality issue with the NDA’s land acquisition law, Rahul alleged that after land, the government is now trying to hand over the internet to industrialists at the cost of free information and access to everyone, especially the youth.
“This government, which belongs to the corporates and the industrialists, is snatching land from farmers, labourers and tribals.
“I am fighting that. I had thought that since a majority of internet users, the youth, had supported Modiji, he will protect their internet rights. But what is happening is that as land is being snatched, so is the internet. The idea behind this is to hand over the net space to corporates and companies, distribute it among them,” he said.
Obama’s article Rahul began his speech in the Lok Sabha by taking a dig at US President Barack Obama’s article in Time magazine praising Modi.
“The biggest industries are in the US. And in the last 60 years, the US President has never praised an Indian PM this way. It is similar to the praise of (Mikhail) Gorbachev by the then US President,” he said. Gorbachev was the President of the erstwhile Soviet Union, which disintegrated thereafter.
Reacting to Rahul’s comments, BJP members sprang to their feet, with Prasad intervening to say: “Our government is not under pressure of any corporate and will never be.”
He said the Modi government is for “non-discriminatory and equal access” to internet by all and hit at the Congress for the multi-crore spectrum allocation scam.
When Rahul wanted to know why the government started the TRAI consultation process if it was in favour of net neutrality, Prasad said the final decision wrests with the government. “I have asked my department for a report, which will be submitted in two weeks,” he added.
Twitteratti had their say on the issue. #RGforNetNeutrality was trending on Twitter, with some comments even questioning Prasad’s understanding of the issue. “IT Minister is ignorant that internet access and net neutrality are not the same thing. God save us!” said one.
Freedom of expression Meanwhile, strongly advocating net neutrality, information technology industry body Nasscom proposed a synergistic model for internet platforms, applications and telecom firms. It also said it would soon share its responses on the regulatory framework of over-the-top players in the TRAI consultative paper.
“Any restrictions placed on access to platforms of data are tantamount to a restriction of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression includes my freedom to be heard,” said Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar.
The other key priority is the adoption of affordable telecom infrastructure. “These essential building blocks of the digital revolution are not contradictory and can and need to be synergised,” he said.