Parliamentary Committee to Discuss Net Neutrality on Thursday

Parliamentary Committee to Discuss Net Neutrality on Thursday
A Parliamentary Committee will discuss the controversial issue of net neutrality on Thursday at a meeting where officials of telecom companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are expected to present their views.

The Standing Committee of Parliament will examine the issue over which there has been an uproar for some time, with even MPs voicing concern in Parliament during the just-concluded Budget session.

During the meeting on Thursday, officials of Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are expected to make their views known on the issue that triggered a row after a consultation paper floated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) last month suggested that net neutrality could end, sources said.

All parties including ruling BJP and its ally Shiv Sena had voiced their concerns on the matter following a Calling Attention Motion by Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien in Rajya Sabha.

When contacted on Wednesday about Thursday's meeting, O'Brien said, "I am glad that Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari allowed Calling Attention Motion on it (earlier this month). And I am glad that the matter has gone to the next stage."

He said he hopes that the government sees sense and does not consider the Trai consultation paper.

The government, while insisting that no decision has been taken on the Trai consultation paper, has promised to ensure "non-discriminatory access to Internet" to all citizens.

"Government stands for ensuring non-discriminatory access to Internet for all citizens of the country.... It is committed to the fundamental principles and concept of net neutrality, keeping the Internet accessible and available to all without discrimination," IT and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in Parliament.

"Connectivity to Internet must go in an unhindered manner.... I assure the House that the key principles of net neutrality will be followed while following concerns with a national outlook," he had said while replying to the Calling Attention Motion in Rajya Sabha.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was the first to raise the issue of net neutrality in Parliament about a month back when he alleged that the government was trying to give away Internet space to some corporate groups.

"This government wants to carve out the Internet and hand it over to some corporates.... the government wants to distribute Internet among industrialists. Every youth should have access to Internet," he had said.

He had demanded that either the existing laws be amended or a new law be brought.

Ravi Shankar Prasad had hit back by referring to curbs imposed by UPA government on Twitter in 2012 and scams in 2G spectrum and coal blocks allocations during its rule.

Rejecting Gandhi's charge, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the Congress Vice President should not have made an "insinuation". He said, "They (Congress) do not want response. They want political mileage."

Prasad said the BJP government stood for 'digital India' which was the ambition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and wanted to ensure that Internet was available to all in a "non-discriminatory" manner.

Playing down the Trai consultation paper in this regard, the IT Minister had said the regulatory body was doing it under the Act governing the issue, but it was "for me and the government to take a final call on the issue."

He said the Telecom Commission will look into the Trai consultation paper, after which he will go into it and then the matter will come up before the Cabinet.

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