Netizens and Fellow Countrymen, Arise Awake and Stop Not until Freedom is Restored  !!!

The revised Communication Convergence Bill ready for passage in the Indian Parliament has introduced some vital clarifications that deal with Internet Content that needs to be taken note of by the community.

The basic scope of the Bill is to  deal with Licensing, Code of Operation and Enforcement of the regulation. The functional activities covered are those coming under the "Convergent Medium" consisting of the Telecom, Broadcasting and the Internet.

It must be remembered that in the Indian scenario, the Telecom and Broadcasting started off as  monopoly Government activities with  high level of regulation when they passed on to the private sector. In these sectors, most operational changes now contemplated may actually lead to more freedom than before. However, the Internet has originated from a state of absolute freedom and any regulation is a curtailment of existing freedom. 

Bringing about a convergence in regulation between these differing media means that giving more freedom to the Broadcast and Telecom media and curtailing the freedom of the Internet media. The concept of Regulation of the Convergent media is therefore fundamentally "Restrictive" on the Internet media.

A more easily understandable example in the Indian context is attempting a "Convergence of the powers of the Indian States including Jammu and Kashmir". If we attempt a common law for all states of India and all citizens of India without any special rights to any minorities, groups or regions, then the State of Jammu and Kashmir has to meet the regulatory convergence point some where higher up on the regulation scale while other States will meet the midpoint below their existing position in the regulatory scale. The sensitivities that would be respected and accommodated if ever such a convergence is attempted should be the guideline for the common regulation now attempted on the Convergent medium in India.


If  Internet is considered as a "Public Broadcast Medium" with International uplinking facility, then each Individual Internet customer is actually connected to a facility that can not only receive broadcast but also uplink broadcast. Every individual Netizen is therefore a "Publisher" or "Broadcaster". Even if a person doesn't operate a web site, he does broadcast over e-mail, Message Board, or a Chat.

If a person is maintaining a personal web site, he becomes a "Channel owner" like Star TV or Zee TV. Some like  may be have small audience and some like or may have larger audience. But just as Star TV and Maharshi TV may have differing audience but similar legal status, all web sites will have similar legal status.

While the individuals and the web site owners will now fall under the category of "Content Application Providers" in the eyes of Communication Convergence Bill, the ISPs, Cyber Cafes, as well as  Cable Operators and Companies who provide Internet connectivity through a LAN, fall under different categories of "Network Service Providers" or "Network Infrastructure Providers". Some web sites who provide services such as free web pages, message boards etc may fall under the category of "Network Application Service Providers".

Consequent to the Communication Convergence Bill, every form of broadcast over Internet will become a subject matter of regulation.  "Receiving E-Mails" which is like seeing a TV broadcast and "Sending E-Mails" which is like broadcast with uplinking from Indian soil will now have to be distinguished for regulatory purpose. "Surfing" with two way packet exchange is automatically an "Interactive Real Time Tele Communication" and all regulations applicable to Long Distance telephony will have to apply. Hosting a web site whether Personal, Professional or News oriented, will all need to be regulated on par with  Star TV or Zee TV.

According to the Communication Convergence Bill, license is required for using any wireless equipment, to provide and own Networking Infrastructure Services, Networking  Services, Network Application services and Content Application services. The Content has to follow a "code" meant for programmes and advertisements . Any violation of the provisions of licensing or code or any other operational aspects provided in the Bill  is punishable with fine, imprisonment etc.

As a result of these provisions, unless specifically exempted, every activity including "Surfing" and "E-Mail Usage" will require "License", is subject to "Code for the Content". 

If the present opinion of the world that "Internet content is Personal Speech" is taken into account, every regulation attempted under the Bill is a regulation of "Speech" and violates the fundamental principles of human rights.

Unfortunately, instead of attempting to provide exemptions for Internet related activities from various regulations, the Communication Convergence Bill particularly in the amended form takes more efforts to include several Internet related activities under the provisions of the Bill.

For example, the explanations added to Chapter VII, Section 26 (6) (d) specifically says that 

"To Provide Content Application Service" includes Internet based Content on web sites,
"To provide Network application Service includes IT Enabled Services such as Call Centers, E-Commerce, Tele banking, Tele Education, Tele Trading, Tele Medicine" etc.
By virtue of such inclusions read along with the other provisions of the Bill brings the Internet activity of individuals under every regulation contemplated in the Bill. 

It is obvious that the legislation has been drafted under the confusion that every Internet Content provider is like or with a subscriber base equal to major Channels like Star TV or Major Print publications like Times of India. Hence they are found worthy of all kinds of licensing, accountability standards and legal responsibilities relevant to such major broadcasting media.

The reality is that Internet is, by basic concept a network of millions of like sites which are expressions of individuals and in effect are nothing but "Speech". If some of them become "Portals" it is like people congregating to listen to Nani Palkhiwala on Taxation. What they say still is "Speech" and unless the speech degenerates into "False Propaganda" with sinister motives, (eg: or , they deserve to be protected under the concept of  "Freedom of Speech" and freed from the regulations contemplated under the Communication Convergence Bill. 

In summary, the very basic premise of the Communication Convergence Bill that attempts to bring a "Homogeneous Regulatory Framework" for the Convergent medium is a fundamentally unsound proposition and  will be a serious threat to the freedom of Netizens. If the Netizens are not given the exemptions that are legitimately due to them, the Bill deserves to be buried in its entirety rather than exist in its controversial form.

July 26 2001

Full Text of the Revised Bill Available here at India

Comments and Suggestions can be sent to  Naavi

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