Rahul Gandhi Takes Up Net Neutrality Cause In Parliament, Annoys Government To No End

22/04/2015 1:11 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India's opposition Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses farmers during a rally against land bill in New Delhi, India, Sunday, April 19, 2015. Tens of thousands of flag-waving farmers rallied in India's capital on Sunday to protest the government's plan to ease rules for obtaining land for industry and development projects.(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI — Congress Vice President spoke out on the net neutrality debate on Wednesday at the Lok Sabha, requesting the government to stop Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's consultation on the issue.

"Please stop the consultation and look into either changing the law or writing a new law for net neutrality," the Nehru-Gandhi scion told the lower house of the parliament.

He alleged that the government was planning to carve up and distribute the internet among big businesses, sticking with his refrain from the land bill discussion that Modi government favoured pro-industry policies.

"The government is planning to carve out the net and hand it over to some corporates," he said.

Gandhi praised efforts by Indian citizens who were protesting in social media platforms demanding net neutrality, drawing the House's attention to the one million people who have registered online to fight for net neutrality. "Youth have voted, they are asking on Twitter, on Facebook, and on all other applications - they are fighting for net neutrality," he said.

Notably, Gandhi is not present on these social media platforms, while Prime Minister Modi is a social media giant.

"The government is planning to carve out the net and hand it over to some corporates," said Gandhi.

His two minute speech was met with a vehement response from Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology. Roundly putting Gandhi down, Prasad said on Wednesday, "TRAI has the agency to decide under the TRAI Act, but decision making right is with Ravi Shankar Prasad and Narendra Modi's government."

He said that the procedure of any law demanded that TRAI would send their consultations, following which the telecom ministry will deliberate on the matter. "I will decide, the cabinet will decide," he said firmly. He said he has been instructed by the PM to make non-discriminatory internet available to all Indians.

Prasad said that the BJP government had every intention to make internet accessible to all Indians, and angrily denied allegations of corporate-government nexus on the issue.

"Our government does not come under pressure from any corporate nor will it ever come," said Prasad at the parliament, claiming internet penetration has grown steadily since the new government was formed last May. "The PM's directive is that we don't just want e-governance, we want mobile governance."

Prasad also claimed that he had foreseen potential issues in the new legislation long before the net neutrality controversy started.

"In January 2015 itself, I had made a committee in my department and told them to monitor the entire situation," he said. "The report is expected in the second week of May."

Push For Internet Access

"My government wants to reassure this house that the Prime Minister is pushing for 'Digital India' and our aim is that the country's 125 crore people should have internet," said Prasad. "Don't worry, we'll protect this country's people's future access to internet."

Responding to Gandhi's dig at Modi, where he implied that the PM had earned high praise from Obama because he was helping corporate America's interests, Prasad said that Modi was one of the most popular people on social media website Twitter all over the world.

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