Expert Panel Discussion in New Delhi Explores Local Barriers and Challenges to Open Internet Access

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On November 18 in New Delhi, Mozilla partnered with the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in.) to host a conversation about connecting millions more people in India to the free and open Internet.The panel gathered experts in policy, law, and venture capital, and included Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla, Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director at SFLC.in, Mahesh Murthy, Founder of Pinstorm, co-Founder at Seedfund, as well as Smriti Parsheera, Consultant at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. The group had a lively conversation and offered differentiated perspectives around these central questions:

  • What have been core developments after India’s ban on differential pricing earlier this year?
  • What are the biggest challenges to bringing all of India online and what areas are ripe for innovation?
  • What values are important to guide innovation in connecting the unconnected?
  • In which ways can digital literacy initiatives complement efforts focusing on infrastructure and affordability barriers in India?
  • How can more initiatives like the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge foster innovative thinking, broaden the set of possible solutions and enable the transition from ideas to scalable market solutions?

“While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recognized that some business models are too harmful to competition and users to be allowed in the market, the very real challenge of bringing all of the Internet to all people remains. To advance this goal, Mozilla’s ‘Equal Rating Innovation Challenge’ is designed to catalyze new thinking and innovation in providing affordable access and cultivating digital literacy,” Mozilla’s Jochai Ben-Avie said.

“The debate around Internet openness and access has been playing out in India like nowhere else, and Equal Rating models can help to bring the Internet to all in line with TRAI’s regulation. Building on Mozilla’s strong commitment to net neutrality, the central tenet of Equal Rating models is that they treat all content equally, and that users are able to choose the content they want to see based on the quality of that content and not the commercial relationships of a given provider,” he added.

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Mahesh Murthy called Mozilla’s challenge a real “game changer” which can help bring the next 300 million Indians online. He added: “I was part of the team that helped fight Free Basics – because it simply gave too much power to one company. But I was always cognizant of the need for the less privileged to get free Internet access. We want companies to come up with solutions that offer free net access, without the restrictions – and with the freedom for a user to visit any site she chooses. I’m glad to see that Equal Rating offers exactly that: plan to offer a certain amount of free and unfettered Internet access to all users, without restrictions or bias.”

Mishi Choudhary commended our initiative during the discussion, “Connecting the unconnected while propagating the values of an open Internet is what we all must work for. Mozilla’s challenge is the correct way to solve the problem of access. I hope for more such initiatives to be rolled out and we can address the challenge innovatively to educate every being on earth through an open Internet.”

“India has shown the world that it can protect the openness of Internet in the TRAI ruling earlier this year,” Smriti Parsheera said. “The global community has taken note of India as a country where even before any reference framework on net neutrality existed, the regulator took a view on ‘zero rating practices’ and ‘discriminatory pricing practices’, leading to a rollback of Free Basics,” she added.

We’re very pleased and excited about the positive reactions and fruitful conversations we had in New Delhi. And we keep going! On November 30, we will host an event in Santiago de Chile together with Start-Up Chile, a program created by the Chilean Government that seeks to attract early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups using Chile as a platform to go global. If you want to register, please RSVP.

We’re looking forward to meeting you there!