Tuesday, January 26, 2016

[Editorial # 50] A debate beyond ‘clicktivism’ : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 26th January 2016. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]

The consultation process set in motion by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the issue of differential pricing of cellular data has set off a full-scale and no-holds-barred war of words between the authority and Facebook. The spat came into the public domain last week when TRAI released its e-mail exchanges with the social networking giant. The telecom regulator is clearly concerned about the unabashed enthusiasm demonstrated by Facebook to utilise — indeed, exploit — the consultation process to drum up support for its Free Basics product. TRAI was scathing in its criticism of Facebook’s high-intensity lobbying exercise. The regulator minced no words, and accused Facebook of converting its consultation process into a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll’’. Also, TRAI is convinced that the campaign by Facebook to defend its free Internet platform “is wholly misplaced” as the consultation paper is only on differential pricing for data services and not on any particular product or service. The social networking giant has been collating responses from users of its platform, and forwarding them to TRAI. Somewhere in this process, Facebook felt that somebody with access to the TRAI e-mail account had blocked the receipt of its e-mails. That accusation was enough to provoke a confrontation with TRAI. More than anything else, the stand-off between the two has brought the focus on the efficacy of the consultation process in an environment where private enterprise is increasingly gaining greater clout. Also, it raises serious questions on the lobbying practices followed to shape outcomes in a consultation process, and the potential impact on policy formulations.

In the Information Age, where communication enterprises are not just controlling but also redefining the way we interact, it is imprudent and even risky to let them have a free run in setting the policy agenda. The right to do business does not automatically give them the freedom to misuse their platforms to hijack policy initiatives by swaying public opinion. By means of its action, Facebook clearly has walked into the ‘conflict of interest’ argument. In the wake of rising support for net neutrality, Facebook launched a multi-million dollar campaign late last year to support Free Basics, a re-branded version of its internet.org. How tenable is it for an interested enterprise like Facebook to play a facilitating role in the consultation process initiated by TRAI? The ‘template response’ that it has procured from its users naturally has no articulation on the points made by TRAI. Moreover, Facebook cannot arrogate to itself the right to represent users just because they use its platform. The TRAI-Facebook face-off, unfortunately, has deflected the focus from the real issue: what kind of Internet access will suit a country like India with over a billion people? A solution must focus on providing maximum benefit to the poor.


1. What are various regulatory bodies in India? What are various roles of these bodies?

2. What is TRAI? What are its roles and functions?

3. What do you understand by Social Media? What are various Social Media platforms available today?

4. Do you think access to internet should be considered as a basic right? Why or why not?

5. What is Facebook's Free Basic Program? How is it going to impact the people who do not have an access to internet?

6. What is meant by Digital Divide? Does India also have a Digital Divide? What measures are being taken by the government to bridge this divide?

7. What do you understand by "Conflict of Interest". Explain with a few examples.

8. What is the current confrontation going on between TRAI and Facebook?

9. What kind of Internet access according to you should be suitable for India? Justify

10. Access to internet should be provided to each and every one but not at the cost of Net Neutrality. Do you agree? Justify your answer with suitable examples.


  1. 1. Various regulatory bodies in India include-
    a. Inland Waterways Authority of India- development and regulation of Inland waterways for shipping and navigation.
    b. Forward Markets Commission- chief regulator of commodity futures markets in India.
    c. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India- regulates telecom services and tariffs in India.
    d. Institute of Chartered Accountants of India- regulates the profession of Chartered Accountancy in India.
    e. Reserve Bank of India- regulates the monetary policy of the Indian rupee.
    f. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India- regulates and supervises food safety in order to promote and protect public health.
    g. Securities and Exchange Board of India- regulates the functions of securities market.
    h. Airports Economic Regulatory Authority- regulates tariffs charged by all the major airports in India.
    i. Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority- regulates and develops the insurance industry in India.
    j. Registrar of Companies- regulates and registers the information of various companies in India.
    k. Central Electricity Regulatory Commission- regulates the tariff of Power Generating companies owned or controlled by the government of India.
    l. Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority- regulates pension funds and protects the interests of subscribers to schemes of pension funds and related matters in order to promote old age income security..
    m. Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority- regulates and ensure implementation of the provisions of the Warehousing (Development and Regulation) Act, 2007 for the development and regulation of warehouses, Regulations of Negotiability of Warehouse Receipts and promote orderly growth of the warehousing business.

  2. 2. TRAI- or The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (established 1997) is the independent regulator established by the Government of India to regulate the telecommunications business in India. The major role of TRAI is to ensure that promotion and growth of telecommunications in India. The major functions of TRAI are-
    a. settlement of disputes that arise between service providers
    b. promotes efficiency and encourage competition in the telecommunication operation services in order to encourage growth in the services, in the telecommunication services protect the consumers interest, and lay down the period of time for providing long distance and local telecommunication circuits between various different service providers
    c. inspection of the various equipments that are being used in the network, recommend the kind of equipments that the service providers must use, monitor the service quality, and also conduct survey periodically of the service that is being provided by the service providers
    d. regulate tariffs charged by telecom service providers
    e. check that conditions and terms that it has formulated are being followed, regulate the arrangements between the service providers in order to ensure that they share the revenue that are derived from supplying telecommunication services, and suggest license revocation when there is non- compliance of conditions and terms of the license

  3. Social media is a broad term that covers a wide range of websites that help us in interacting with various people. Examples of social media platforms include-
    a). Social Networking- eg. Facebook, Hi5, Whats apps that allows us to interact by adding friends, posting comments, forming groups to initiate discussions.
    b). Social News- eg. Reddit and Digg that allows us to interact by voting and commenting on articles.
    c). Social Photo and Video sharing- eg. YouTube, Instagram that allows us to interact by sharing videos or photos and commenting on them

  4. The various regulatory bodies of India are as follows :
    1. Inland Waterways Authority of India is a statutory authority that develops and controls the inland waterways of India for the purposes of inland shipping , navigation and trade. It was established in 1986.
    2. Forward Markets Commission better known as the Securities and Regulatory Authority of India ( SEBI), is the regulator of the securities market in India and was preceded by the Controller of Capital Issues. It was previously not a statutory body, but received its statutory authority in 1992 through the SEBI Act.
    3. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)- is the independent regulator of the telecommunications industry in India. It was established in 1997 by an Act of Parliament so as to regulate the tarrifs, services and licensing which was previously the function of the Central government. It aims to nurture a fair and transparent environment that promotes the development of telecommunications industry in India , ensure a fair and competitive level playing field for all participants and through this enable the country to be a leading participant in the global information society.
    4. Institute of Chartered Accountants of India- ICAI is the sole regulatory authority of the proffesion of chartered accountancy in India and was established as a body corporate in 1949 under the Chartered Accounatnst Act 1949. It is the only national licensing cum regulatory authority for financial audit and accountancy in India and prescribes accounting standards to the National Financial Reporting Authority which is to be adhered to by the companies and other organisations and is the second largest regulatory authority of the accounting services after American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
    5. The Reserve Bank of India is the central bank of the country which is in charge of the formulation and implementation of monetary policy in India.

  5. 6. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India -FSSAI was established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government Of India. The FSSAI is the agency responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety. Its non-executive Chairperson is appointed by the government from amongst eminent persons who are experts in the field of food sciences and others who are involved in the subject.
    7.The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority is responsible for regulating airline tariffs.
    8. The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India is an autonomous apex level statutory body that is responsible for the development and growth of the insurance sector in India. It was constituted under the Insurance Regulatory and Development Act 1999, which was an Act of Parliament.
    9. Registrar of Companies is the primary regulator of all company related matters in India and is in charge of the administration of the Companies Act 2013. Popularly known as the ROC it falls under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and has offices in all the major states of India.
    10. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), is the regulator of the power sector in India and has quasi-judicial status under Section 76 of the Electricity Act 2003. It was initially constituted in 1998, under the Electricity Regulatory Commissions Act , 1998, with the prime purpose of regulating and rationalizing tariffs of power generators as well as transmission of electricity between states and the associated tariffs as well as any other power generation company with the capacity to generate electricity.
    11. Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority is the agency for promoting and developing the pension funds in the country, and was established by the Government of India in 2003, with the authorization of the Ministry of Finance. It aims to promote old age income security by establishing, developing and regulating various pension funds and also protecting the interests of those subscribing to the various pension fund schemes.
    12. Warehousing Development and Regulating Authority of India- established under an act of the same name in 2007, for promoting the orderly growth of the warehousing business, to regulate the negotiability of warehousing receipts and for the development and regulation of warehouses.

  6. The internet is an extensive source of information as well as a cheaper source in relation to the conventional methods of information, and is also an excellent method of exposure to new areas of knowledge. The weaker sections of society who are deprived of the conventional methods of exposure such as private schooling, opportunities for travelling, inability to purchase expensive reading material may find it much more affordable to access information on the internet. Given the proliferation of cheap smartphones and low rates of communications tariffs in the form of top-ups and internet packages, accessing required information on the internet, would be a much more viable alternative for the weaker sections of the population to fill in the ever widening skill gap between the richer and poorer sections of society. Through free videos , tutorials, reading materials that are disseminated online, deprived sections can access information which was earlier privy to only those who have the opportunity of high level education and opportunities for exposure and experience. The additional opportunities that privileged sections of societies receive in the form of extra-curricular activites and opportunities for personality development can aslo be extended to those who are deprived. Although they may not receive such additional inputs to their education in the traditional form, they would , nevertheless be able to supplement their existing knowledge base by accessing the material on the internet. Opportunities for employment, healthcare, education etc.. becomes easier if such sections have access to the internet rather than relying on word-of-mouth or through the work of the NGOs. However as a critic recently pointed out, the interent, to serve its purpose as a source of information and supplementary education must ensure that its material is available in vernacular languages, given the large percentage of the population that cannot read or rite English.

  7. Facebook's Free Basics program , previously referred to as internet.org, is an internet platform that provides a set of services and websites free of cost to those who cannot afford internet access. However Facebook partners with the Internet Service Providers in order to provide a selective and preferential grouping of services that critics argue I inherently discriminatory and tilts towards oligopolistic colluding between certain major players in the sector.

  8. Although Facebook claims to be sponsoring free access to the internet for several millions of people who do not have internet access, in reality it does not offer free access to the whole of the internet but only to a select few websites and services. Critics also mention how internet content is unavailable in vernacular languages and hence useless for the majority of the masses who neither ead nor write in English. In addition the services that are offered may not be the services that are direly needed by the population, but the most profitable for Facebook and its allied companies.

  9. Digital Divide is a term that refers to the economic and social inequalities in terms of access to, use of and impact of Information and Communications Technology. It refers to the inequality or gap experienced between different groups some of whom have access to information technology and those who have restricted or no access at all. Within a country, this digital divide could be between individual, households, communities, regions, etc.. When described between different countries it is referred to as the global digital divide. In India the Digital divide is seen between the urban and rural populace predominantly and consequently between the economically forward and backward sections of society. Most rural areas do not have basic communications connectivity or basic infrastructure, let alone infrastructure for internet connectivity. In addition, while urban dwellers on an average have a greater disposable income that remains after pending on essential commodities, they tend to have greater access to communications devices and services. In rural areas, majority of the populace spends the larger part of their income on basic necessities and paying debts. Given the higher rates of impoverishment and lack of basic amenities that prevail in rural areas, as well as the abysmal levels of income in comparison with their urban counterparts, participation and access of the rural populace in ICT services remains severely restricted.

  10. 10. Access to internet should be provided to each and every one but not at the cost of Net Neutrality. Do you agree? Justify your answer with suitable examples.
    A. knowledge is divine. Everyone should have access to internet which is a source of infinite knowledge to tap the fullest potential of any individual. However, this shouldnot be at the cost of net neutrality. the following are the reasons to promote net neutrality without compromising the accessibility of the internet.
    active internet users in india 19% which means much scope for the telecom sector which acts as driving force has to fulfill the targets of digital india campaign.
    skill india mission: with aim of promoting skill to 1/3 of emloyment through skills , it is essential to have net neutrality.
    startup india: most of the startup 90% are in the field of software. Hence it is very essential to promote net neutrality to encourage all startups with out discrimination.