Modi's Silicon Valley Deals: Net Neutrality

Has Modi done a deal with the digital devil?

Economic Times reports that after the initial euphoria over Narendra Modi’s Silicon Valley conquest subsides and the takeaways are counted, the question of Internet biggies playing a vital role in the making of ‘Digital India’ needs to be analysed with regard to India’s stand on net neutrality and the country’s laws. First, in spite of the rattle and hum of billions of dollars pouring into India from California, till now, only Qualcomm has said it would invest up to $150 million. Qualcomm, by the way, is one of the six partners of Facebook in its Internet.org venture.

And just a week back, New Delhi gave approval to a multi-billion dollar helicopter deal with Boeing. No doubt, India’s strategic heavy lift capability is severely impaired and the chopper gunships are getting old. But at a time when India faces an all-time low in its combat aircraft squadron strength, dithering on and scaling back the Rafale deal seems inconsistent with the purpose of expediency behind this approval. This is just to dispel those theories of “He came, he saw, he conquered.” Now enter Facebook, Google and other biggies. Facebook’s Internet.org project, already operational in India through service provider Reliance, has received flak for violating net neutrality by playing gatekeepers and allowing access to select services. 

After several prominent Indian partners parted ways and millions of petitioners flooded the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) asking it to ensure net neutrality, Facebook and its partners — Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm — decided to turn the project into an open-to-all platform, but with three ambiguous conditions that still left enough room for speculation that partners and Over The Top (OTT) content producers had undue advantage over others. Even rechristening Internet.org as Free Basics has not helped alleviate concerns. It is essentially old wine in a new bottle, the same walled garden with enhanced security.

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