Indian govt shouldn't restrict Internet use

Internet is an indispensible tool for governance in a free democracy, says India's Union Minister for Communications and IT, who calls for industry stakeholders to help build a roadmap for the sector.

Local trade body, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), last week held a panel discussion on "India's position in the UN on Internet governance". Most speakers felt the government should let the Internet remain free and withdraw or refine its stand at the UN.

India had favored an international proposal to regulate Internet content through a United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP) comprising 50 bureaucrats from the UN member countries. India concurred with the CIRP on Oct. 26, 2011, through a statement at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

This week, Union Minister for Communications and IT Kapil Sibal made it clear there would be no restrictions whatsoever on the use of Internet. Addressing a curtain-raiser ceremony of "India Internet Governance Conference (IIGC)" to be held next month in New Delhi, Sibal appealed to industry stakeholders to help evolve a consensus so a clear-cut roadmap could be developed for the sector.

He described the Internet as an indispensible tool for governance in a free democracy, a tool that could help deliver services to the people transparently and eliminate go-betweens between the government and the people.

The Indian government has been in news of late for its Internet censorship, especially last month, in the wake of communal tensions in the border districts of Assam and violent protests in Mumbai. In August, the goverment asked Internet service providers to block 16 Twitter accounts, including those of some right-wing entities and leaders, blog posts and hundreds of Web pages featuring user-generated content on sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

The theme of IIGC is "Internet for social and economic development: Building the future together", which would provide a platform for an open and inclusive policy dialogue involving the government, business, civil society, technical community, and academia. It will traverse a wide range of topics; from network neutrality to global Internet governance models; from effective management of the transition to IPv6, to making broadband access available to all; from the challenges the Internet poses to traditional media, to the challenges hate speech online poses for all.

In a statement issued by Ficci, R. Chandrashekhar, secretary of department of telecommunications for India's Ministry of Communications and IT, stated Internet today impacts both users and non-users. "With the use of Internet, public interest is at stake and all stakeholders need to reconcile the divergent issues, and then take them up appropriately at the international forum," Chandrashekhar said.

Anu Madgavkar, India head and senior fellow of McKinsey Global Institute, said in the statement: "India ranks low when it comes to Internet penetration and contributes directly 1.6 percent of GDP which amounts to US$30 billion. It could reach US$100 billion by 2015 if we are able to connect the nation virtually."

To achieve this target, five things needed are: Internet reaching the smaller towns, cities and villages; reduction in total cost of ownership; enabling large scale digital literacy; increase in the range of Internet use in new areas; and a favorable business environment.

Meanwhile, a recently released global report on the Internet freedom rated India 39th in 2012, a slip from two places last year. The report titled, "Freedom on the net 2012 (FOTN): A global assessment of Internet and digital media", by Washington-based monitoring group Freedom House, conducted a comprehensive study of Internet freedom in 47 countries.

Quoting Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, the report said 309 specific items such as URLs, Twitter accounts, img tags, blog posts, blogs, and a handful of Web sites, had been blocked by the government . But officially, the government admitted to blocking 245 Web pages for inflammatory content hosting of provocative content.

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