The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Sunday reaffirmed its support to the principle of net neutrality, making a strong pitch for the government's vision of "net equality" that will enable access to the internet for a billion Indians.
"We support an open internet and believe that consumers should decide what to do online. Our job is to enable consumers to benefit from that freedom," COAI said in a statement here.
"We offer choice and do not block or provide any preferential access to any website or app," it added.
Network neutrality, or open inter-working, means that in accessing the World Wide Web one is in full control over how to go online, where to go and what to do, as long as these are lawful. So firms that provide internet services should treat all lawful internet content in a neutral manner.
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It also required such companies not to charge users, content, platform, site, application or mode of communication differentially.
These are also the founding principles of the internet and what has made it the largest and most diverse platform for expression in recent history.
Urging all stakeholders to have a comprehensive and informed debate on the subject, the industry association said India's telecom revolution has empowered over 950 million citizens through affordable services "and the internet revolution must now touch every citizen of the country".
"The operators have invested billions of dollars in licence fees, spectrum fees and network roll-outs. Yet the industry still makes negative return on the capital employed," COAI said.
It estimated that India would need an additional capital outlay of Rs.300,000 to Rs.500,000 crore over the next 10 years in spectrum, new technology, equipment, towers, and optical fibre backbone, among others, "to meet the PM's vision of Digital India".
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg of Internet.org -- a platform with Reliance Communications as its India partner and which offers free access to data -- and Bharti Airtel, whose Airtel Zero venture was also drawn into the debate, have both said they are completely committed to net neutrality.