Netizens Arise…

Turn-of-the-mill rumors have never fazed all and sundry. But this one has
sure caused heartache to the cyberdom populace–some members of the Internet
Service Providers’ Association of India (ISPAI), are planning to block popular
sites like Hotmail and Yahoo.

Press reports claim that this is an attempt by the ISPAI to increase revenues
before its coffers run dry. Given that just a trickle of the moneystream is
flowing their way, ISPs have come up with an intelligent revenue sharing scheme
wherein these portals have to pay a part of their earnings to the ISPs if they
want traffic on their sites from India. With the number of subscribers growing
steadily, they apparently have reason to pose such a claim.

The move has been termed Internet extortion and is being booed down by users.
Also, given the lack of any legal provision to bar any ISP from blocking sites,
there is not much that one can do. So, will such a move by ISPs not choke the
Net access business ? Internet Telephony has lead to certain ISPs blocking their
rival’s net telephony services for more than two months.

But ISPAI has been quick in stating that the industry has no intention of
blocking popular websites. "Blocking does not solve any purpose," says
ISPAI secretary Amitabh Singhal. He adds that an ISP (read Data Infosys from
Rajasthan) had merely suggested an item (to ask for a revenue share from popular
portals) for discussion. "There were other items, including some suggesting
ways and means to resolve the core issues relating to Internet telephony.
However, any such issue, if at all taken up during our meetings does not reflect
either a consideration or consent on any matter," he said.

The hue and cry stems from the fact that blocking and content is considered
to be under the discretion of the ISPs. In the past, some ISPs have refused to
carry out the instructions from authorities to block specific websites due to
‘technical reasons.’ ISPs have however been the beneficiaries of the
provisions under Section 79 of the ITA-2000 (In India) whereby they were
considered "intermediaries to communication" and absolved of the
responsibility for any "communication passing through them" if they
had exercised "due diligence" and "were unaware" of the
offending communication.

However, recent incidents point out that ISPs are now prepared to take
greater responsibilities in monitoring content viewed by their customers. While
VSNL had represented to the Mumbai High Court some time back (In the Cyber
Pornography at Cyber Cafe Case) that the technology is inadequate to block
specific websites, Satyam has indicated recently that it has the technological
capability and willingness to block specific websites. And Satyam’s blockage
of, etc has also added fuel to fire.

The argument is that ISPs should not exploit their rights of content
regulation and since they are only intermediaries in the real sense, they should
not infringe on the rights of netizens. If they do, it will be a suicidal move
since they would then assume full responsibility for the content delivered
including content from international porno sites, fraud sites, and hate sites,
and lose protection under Section 79 of the ITA-2000. They will also be open to
legal action from the consumers for violation of the ‘Right to Information’and
legal action from Hotmail and Yahoo for ‘Criminal intimidation and extortion.’
Courts can also take the view that it is possible to block identified sites at
the ISP level unless the ISP is deliberately not interested in such blocking.

There is still no confirmation on how this little item was leaked out to the
public and the ensuing debates and vocal fuming has left doubts about the
veracity of the reports and decision a section of the press claims was taken.
The ISPAI has clearly denied such an event and the feasibility of such an
occurrence in the future. But as for now, all we can do is cross our fingers and
hope our passwords still lead to our inboxes when we sign on next!

Dhanya Krishnakumar in New Delhi

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