MEET THE INDIAN-AMERICAN AT CENTRE OF US MOVE TO REPEAL NET NEUTRALITY RULES

The article originally appeared on India Today on 15 December.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the telecom regulator of the United States of America, has repealed a landmark law the country passed in 2015 to ensure net neutrality in the US and Ajit Pai, a son of immigrant Indians, is at the centre of the debate. He heads the US FCC.

Pai is a Republican, the same party as American President Donald J Trump, and was made the FCC chief in January 2017, the same month the Trump administration took over the White House.

The FCC, the US equivalent of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has voted in favour of repealing a 2015 law enacted by itself under the Barack Obama government. The FCC is overseen by the US Congressional chairs and currently, like the US Congress (the American equivalent of Parliament), the Republicans are in majority in the FCC, a fact that helped the proposal moved by Pai score a 3-2 victory. Incidentally, Ajit Pai was appointed a commissioner in the FCC in 2012 by then president Barack Obama.

The move by Pai, whose FCC bio states that “consumers benefit most from competition, not pre-emptive regulation and regulators should be skeptical (sic) of pleas to regulate rivals”, has sharply divided America with critics saying repealing the net neutrality law will kill the spirit of free internet.

Critics argue that the repeal plan will benefit only few big telecom players who wield immense power over the flow of internet and telecommunication channels. Opponents of the repeal bill, named Restoring Internet Freedom Order, say it will effectively shut down or marginalise small players and will start a rush of predatory discriminating practices where one telecom company will try all to disadvantage a rival company’s data flowing through its cables.

And above all, internet users will be the ultimate losers with their freedom to get unrestrained access to all content and data gone, the critics add. Net neutrality, they say, ensures that no service provider will speed up or throttle a particular service because of its business interests.

IN INDIA

India has also been through this important debate. The country saw a major controversy over services such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero plans. These differential pricing plans were alleged to be discriminatory in nature as they would have given preferential treatment to content and data of a particiular telecom company or internet service provider (ISP).

Citizens here were up in arms over this and a public outcry forced the government and the TRAI to initiate consultations on building a framework to ensure net neutrality in the Indian market. And, its outcome has been positive so far with TRAI vouching to uphold the principles of net neutrality in recommendations it released last month.

Ajit Pai’s move is threatening to undo that in America, the world’s largest free market for the internet. Pai’s move has also unnerved the internet’s founding fathers Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf and many other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker.

They wrote an open letter to US Congress calling on it to cancel the proposed vote yesterday. They called the repeal plan flawed and an imminent threat to the internet.

But Pai was unnerved. He tweeted this morning to let the world know that there would be no change in his plans, “U.S. @SenateMajLdr supports @FCC plan to restore Internet freedom, saying our Internet economy is the “direct result of a bipartisan desire to create an environment of advancement-one that utilized a light regulatory touch.”

Ajit Pai’s parents were doctors. His mother was from Karnataka and father from Andhra Pradesh. They migrated to America where Pai was born in 1973 in Buffalo, New York.

A graduate from Harvard and University of Chicago Law School, Pai’s law career includes assignments mostly with the US judicial services and the US Congress in difference capacities as well as stints with private corporations like Verizon Jenner & Block.

©SantoshChaubey

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AJIT PAI, SON OF IMMIGRANT INDIANS, IS AT THE CENTRE OF US NET NEUTRALITY DEBATE

Ajit Pai, son of immigrant Indians, is at the centre of the raging net neutrality debate in the United States. He heads the US body which regulates the internet in America, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is a Republican and was made the FCC chief in January 2017, the same month the Trump Government was inaugurated in the White House.

The FCC, the US equivalent of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is bringing a proposal to repeal a 2015 law enacted by it under the Barack Obama Government. The FCC is overseen by US Congressional chairs. The repeal plan is slated for voting today and analysts have projected that it would be approved. Incidentally, Ajit Pai was appointed a commissioner in the FCC in 2012 by Barack Obama only.

The move by Pai, whose FCC bio* states that “consumers benefit most from competition, not pre-emptive regulation and regulators should be skeptical of pleas to regulate rivals”, has sharply divided America with critics saying it will kill the spirit of free internet. Critics argue that the repeal plan will benefit only few big telecom players who wield immense power over the flow of internet and telecommunication channels. The repeal bill, Restoring Internet Freedom Order, will effectively shut down or marginalize small players and will start a rush of predatory discriminating practices where one telecom company will try all to discredit its rival company’s data flowing through its cables.

And above all, the people will be the ultimate losers with their freedom to get unrestrained access to every content and data gone, something that is at the heart of net neutrality which aims to ensure level playing field for every content, every data flowing through communication channels, be it by the world’s largest service provide or a start-up.

India has also been through this important debate. We should not forget the controversy generated by moves like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero plans. These differential pricing plans were discriminatory in nature as they would have given preferential treatment to content and data of one telecom company or internet service provider (ISP) over the other. People were naturally outraged at this and their mobilization forced the government and the TRAI to initiate consultations to build a framework to ensure net neutrality in the Indian market. And its outcome has been positive so far with TRAI vouching to uphold the principal of net neutrality in India in its final recommendations on the issue that came out last month.

But Ajit Pai’s may undo all that in America, the world’s largest free market for the internet, and a sort of role-model for the world. And Pai’s move is supported by a lobby of few powerful companies including Verizon, one of America’s biggest telecom services providers and Pai’s former employer, as many media reports* suggest. A Guardian report* writes that Pai is adamant to move ahead with his repeal plan in spite of “members of the public across the political spectrum, be it Democrats or Republicans, supporting the net neutrality rules as revealed in the many polls*.”

Pai’s move has also unnerved the Internet’s founding fathers* Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf and many other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker. They have written an open letter to the US Congress calling on it to cancel the proposed vote today calling Pai’s repeal plan flawed and an imminent threat to the Internet. But Pai, too, is unnerved. He tweeted this morning to let the world know that there would be no change in his plans, “U.S. @SenateMajLdr supports @FCC plan to restore Internet freedom, saying our Internet economy is the “direct result of a bipartisan desire to create an environment of advancement–one that utilized a light regulatory touch.”

Ajit Pai’s parents were doctors. His mother was from Karnataka and father from Andhra Pradesh. They migrated to America where Pai was born in 1973 in Buffalo, New York. A graduate from Harvard and University of Chicago Law School, Pai’s law career includes assignments mostly with the US judicial services and the US Congress in difference capacities as well as stints with private corporations like Verizon Jenner & Block.

©SantoshChaubey

INTERNET’S FOUNDING FATHERS CALL ON US CONGRESS TO SAVE INTERNET FROM TRUMP’S MAN

The article originally appeared on India Today.

Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf, the founding fathers of the Internet, have written to the US Congress to save the Internet from the disastrous consequences of a proposed repeal of a Barack Obama era law on net neutrality that ensured level playing field for all content and every sort of data by ensuring stiff regulations for the Internet service providers (ISPs).

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under the Barack Obama presidency, had adopted the net neutrality rules in February 2015 and enacted it in a law in June that year. The law gave the US government sweeping power over the network providers to check the discriminatory practices with the content flowing through their channels.

Here, in India, we are going through the grinding of that process and thankfully, after over a year of consultation papers, public comments and meetings, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month decided to uphold the supremacy of net neutrality in India.

Now Ajit Pai, son of Indian immigrants and a Republican, who was made the FCC chief by US President Donald Trump in January 2017, is bringing a repeal proposal to that landmark law which is scheduled for voting on December 14.

But the reports that the proposed repeal plan is expected to be approved have worried the proponents of a free internet accessible for all, and the letter by the founding fathers of the Internet reflects that sentiment.

The letter addressed to the Democratic and Republican chairs that control the FCC says that “the FCC’s proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology” terming the proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order an imminent threat to the Internet, “The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped.”

The letter has urged to US lawmakers to cancel the proposed vote. The open letter that is signed by 19 other internet pioneers including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker and Internet Achieves founder Brewster Kahle, alleges the FCC headed by Pai is acting in haste ignoring exerts’ comments, over 23 million pro net neutrality comments by public and against the established practice, has not held even a single public meeting to discuss its proposed repeal order.

The open letter also alleges that the FCC didn’t bother to investigate and explain to people the flaws of its online comment system “including bot-generated comments that impersonated Americans, including dead people, and an unexplained outage of the FCC’s on-line comment system that occurred at the very moment TV host John Oliver was encouraging Americans to submit comments to the system.”

BELOW IS THE TEXT OF THE OPEN LETTER SIGNED BY THE INTERNET’S FOUNDING FATHERS AND PIONEERS:

We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. We are writing to respectfully urge you to call on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to cancel the December 14 vote on the FCC’s proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order (WC Docket No. 17-108 ).

This proposed Order would repeal key network neutrality protections that prevent Internet access providers from blocking content, websites and applications, slowing or speeding up services or classes of service, and charging online services for access or fast lanes to Internet access providers’ customers. The proposed Order would also repeal oversight over other unreasonable discrimination and unreasonable practices, and over interconnection with last-mile Internet access providers. The proposed Order removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation.

It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017. Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The technically-incorrect proposed Order dismantles 15 years of targeted oversight from both Republican and Democratic FCC chairs, who understood the threats that Internet access providers could pose to open markets on the Internet.

The experts’ comment was not the only one the FCC ignored. Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet. The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately.

Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order.

Furthermore, the FCC’s online comment system has been plagued by major problems that the FCC has not had time to investigate. These include bot-generated comments that impersonated Americans, including dead people, and an unexplained outage of the FCC’s on-line comment system that occurred at the very moment TV host John Oliver was encouraging Americans to submit comments to the system.

Compounding our concern, the FCC has failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about these incidents and failed to provide information to a New York State Attorney General’s investigation of them. We therefore call on you to urge FCC Chairman Pai to cancel the FCC’s vote. The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed Order to abolish net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped.

Signed,

Frederick J. Baker, IETF Chair 1996-2001, ISOC Board Chair 2002-2006
Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
Steven M. Bellovin, Internet pioneer, FTC Chief Technologist, 2012-2013
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web & professor, MIT
John Borthwick, CEO, Betaworks
Scott O. Bradner, Internet pioneer
Vinton G. Cerf, Internet pioneer
Stephen D. Crocker, Internet pioneer
Whitfield Diffie, inventor of public-key cryptography
David J. Farber, Internet pioneer, FCC Chief Technologist 1999-2000
Dewayne Hendricks, CEO Tetherless Access
Martin E. Hellman, Internet security pioneer
Brewster Kahle, Internet pioneer, founder, Internet Archive
Susan Landau, cybersecurity expert & professor, Tufts University
Theodor Holm Nelson, hypertext pioneer
David P. Reed, Internet pioneer
Jennifer Rexford, Chair of Computer Science, Princeton University
Ronald L. Rivest, co-inventor of RSA public-key encryption algorithm
Paul Vixie, Internet pioneer
Stephen Wolff, Internet pioneer
Steve Wozniak, co-founder, Apple Computer

©SantoshChaubey

THE BASIC THAT ‘FREE BASICS’ IGNORES!

Indian philosophy has always seen charity as one of the best virtues and ‘a must have endeavour’ in every human life – yes, an endeavour that doesn’t expect anything in return.

And ‘secret charity’ is its most pious form – giving without expecting anything in return – even good words – even obliged gestures.

It is the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ act of a virtuous, meaningful human life that believes in ‘giving’ because it comes to him as responsibility and not as liability – because it comes to him as answerability to his inner urge and not as a mean to feel ‘high and mighty’.

Indian philosophy, right from the dawn of its civilization, right from its earliest texts like in Vedas, has consistently extolled virtues of charity (and secret charity). Its scriptures worship concepts like Dana (donation/charity), Bhiksha (alms) or Dakshina (reasonable fee) and put emphasis on their inevitability in every human life and their need for overall well-being of the society – the need to give it back to the society.

Charity (or secret charity) is very basic to human life in Indian culture, tradition and history – and so in every other religion or faith practiced worldwide – be it Christianity or Islam or Buddhism (which emanated from India) or Judaism or others.

Not like the ‘basics’ of Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’.

Tomorrow, December 30, is the deadline to send in your opinion on the consultation paper floated by the telecom regulator TRAI on ‘differential pricing’ of digital content (zero-rating/net neutrality).

Activists and many concerned people, who can think and who bother to think, are up in arms against services like ‘Free Basics’ or ‘Airtel Zero’ or Reliance Industries’ upcoming digital content platform ‘Jio’ that claim to liberate the internet for everyone by ‘offering free mobile internet ‘selectively’ – choosing services they deem fit – something that is highly questionable.

How can the initiatives by these ‘commercial vendors or social media sites with business interests’ be seen in good faith when ‘profit seeking’ is the root of any business idea?

India crossed 100 crore (1000 million) mobile phone subscribers mark this year, yet only 25% Indians are online as Google’s Rajan Anandan says. And even if we are the fastest growing internet market in the world, there are only 400 million mobile internet users (and there are only 150 million smartphone users) – so there is a huge (huge) market to tap – because it is the mobile internet market that makes India the fastest growing internet marketplace in the world.

And that makes us question the intent of the ideas behind the services like ‘Free Basics’.

We have no reasons to question Mark Zuckerberg’s intent to donate his 99% wealth in charity. In fact acts like that are what the world needs desperately. And people like Zuckerberg doing so publicly, no doubt, will inspire many others to join the cause.

But then Zuckerberg could have kept Facebook away from his ‘Free Basics’ basket – that would have simply answered all the critics who are questioning his intent – an altruistic act that would speak for itself.

That was the minimum (and maximum) basic expected!

That could have answered the critics questioning his intent with doubts like ‘why Free Basics is in bad taste’ or ‘why it sounds inhuman in appeal’!

Free BasicsFeatured Image Courtesy: Free Basics website

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

PORN BAN: YES, STATE CANNOT ACT AS MORAL POLICE. WHAT IS SOLUTION THEN?

“The state cannot become the moral police. We cannot peek inside. The entire issue needs larger debate. Every computer and mobile phone have the child lock. It is difficult to stop such things at the source level.”

The statement sums up the government’s position after the huge backlash it faced on banning 857 ‘allegedly pornographic’ websites en masse that also included many non-pornographic websites.

Yes, the state and the courts cannot be the moral police as the Supreme Court has observed and as the government was forced to admit in the apex court today.

It is not the way societies in democracies function.

‘The entire issue needs larger debate’ – was rightly said by the government’s representative in the apex court.

There are issues related to this free run of online pornography that we need to be worried about. Banning sites with child pornographic content is absolutely required. But a blanket ban on all pornographic websites is not at all acceptable.

The government needs to regulate and control cyber crimes and violations and the pornographic content that violates any legal framework must be addressed in the framework.

It is true proliferation of online pornography with rapid internet growth in India, especially with ever increasing mobile internet base, is the major contributor behind massive increase in incidents of crime against women and the trend is worrying.

But, a blanket ban is not the way to handle it – because technologically, it is not possible. World Wide Web (www) offers websites a seamless space to function. A country can filter content of its area but it has no hold over other geographies which may not conform to its legal requirements and as internet has no defined geographies, banning related content from across the world is not feasible. Also, no technology can ensure effective identification of all such websites and contents based on a depository of related words and tools. Websites banned will soon crop up with different names. Even China, an authoritarian regime with heavy internet censorship, finds difficult to block web access the way it wants, in spite of its massive surveillance infrastructure. Same holds true for Russia.

Also, putting in place such technological infrastructure requires substantial investments, in tune of billions of US dollars. And what pinches more that even then, we cannot say with certainty, that it will be able to check the menace.

Then what is the solution?

Well, we cannot say – in fact no one can say. What makes this assumption even more vague is the fact that there is no scope of error here if the trial fails – because the consequences will be even more damaging.

One possible way to deal with it partial pricing. The pornographic content may be kept out of the ambit of net neutrality and the service providers can be asked to price the content at a level (for related websites) that it becomes out of reach of the masses.

Also, the websites can be asked to offer only online content with no ‘download’ options, another way to check pornography spread.

Another way to deal with the problem is – the websites can be asked to have a configuration that works only with high end smartphone. Yes, it cannot be applied to all websites, especially those money spinners operating from a remote corner of the world, but keeping pornography out of ‘net neutrality’ ambit would help in tackling that.

It can be made legally mandatory to have child lock buttons in every mobile phone, computer and television set.

All these solutions (and more of the type) can work effectively to keep pornography restricted to a social penetration level that will be largely acceptable. Pornography was always there, before the advent of internet. Internet proliferated its spread. Finding indirect ways to control online pornography traffic has the potential to reduce it to the level that a society in transition like India needs where information access and excess have led to chaos and an order is needed.

Yes, the government cannot ‘peek’ inside – as the attorney general said. Right to privacy has to be sacrosanct in a democracy. The government doesn’t accept that and the Supreme Court is to deliver its decision on this issue tomorrow. Hope, the apex court will, one again, hold up the democratic spirit once again.

But we should also not forget that our fundamental rights remain suspended in case of emergencies and we, as a society, should see the rapid spread of online pornography as an emergency situation while finding the ways to deal with it.

A blanket ban is not any solution but making it difficult to reach to the masses is always viable and advisable in a society like India.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

NO MASS DEBATES ON ‘SURVEILLANCE REFORM’ HERE

‘Surveillance reform’ is a term worth debating, isn’t it?

The world’s most powerful nation intensely debated it before taking the positive step yesterday.

Under ‘surveillance reform’, the ‘sweeping’ powers to snoop and collect data were curtailed from the mid-night as The Guardian reported.

The Patriot Act, a product of September 11, 2001 attacks, cannot power the National Security Agency anymore to spy on Americans and other citizens elsewhere.

We always knew the overreach of the US security agencies post 9/11. Edward Snowden, thankfully, put it in the public domain two years ago.

But what makes this welcome decision ironical for us, the Indians, is that we have a government that doesn’t see any wrong in a proposal to buy ‘snooping equipment. We are debating if the Delhi government should buy sophisticated spying equipment for its Anti-Corruption Bureau even if the Delhi government brazenly denies doing so. It is refusing the existence of a cabinet note in this regard, a cabinet note that is circulating in media.

Instead of clarifying the Delhi government’s stand, senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders chose to deflect the blame by questioning the Gujarat incident, the snooping scandal, involving Narendra Modi. They don’t care even if Modi has got a clean chit from the Supreme Court in the case.

Ironical is this stand by a party that had once claimed to change the ethos of Indian politics. But, then the AAP is like other political parties now.

Ironical is that there is a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to take the final call that we need ‘net neutrality’ when we should not delay in taking such basic decisions.

We are a large nation; the world’s second most populous, with over 1.25 billion people. We are the world’s largest democracy. We are among the few large economies of the world and we are also the world’s fastest growing economy now.

But we also have the world’s largest share of malnourished and hungry people. Majority of us are still quality illiterate. The basic need of the majority of the humanity here is still limited to food and shelter.

Yes, we have over 930 million mobile connections now but majority of them still don’t care about debates like ‘net neutrality’.

It is yet another irony of this country with high tele-density where ‘smartphones’ are being seen as the tool of the next phase of information revolution.

Majority of people in our country still don’t know or don’t care for what is ‘surveillance reform’ even if it is going to affect their life deeply.

And when people don’t care, because they are unaware of or they cannot care for, it is a field day for policymakers.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/