NGOs in Governance: Ford Foundation consulted by DoT Panel on Net Neutrality

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New Delhi, July 16: A panel of the Department of Telecommunications has released a report on Net Neutrality.

Read more: How Ford Foundation funded a political party?

While the report has made 24 recommendations on the issue, what is shocking to learn is that one of the invitees/participants as part of the Consultation Process to this panel was the Ford Foundation.

Ford Foundation consulted by DoT Panel

It comes as quite a surprise that Ford Foundation was invited to this consultation considering the fact that it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons after allegations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act were made against it.

Why was Ford Foundation invited by DoT Panel ?

It is a bit hard to comprehend why Ford Foundation was invited to make suggestions to the panel. After all action against the Ford Foundation was initiated on the ground that it had not only violated the norms under the FCRA, but was also alleged to be funding activity which ran contrary to the economic interests of the country.

Ford Foundation was one of the 164 invitees/participants to make suggestions and recommendations to the DoT panel on net neutrality.

The question that needs to be raised here is why was Ford Foundation invited? On one hand the Home Ministry has decided to implement the Intelligence Bureau report which accused several NGOs including Ford Foundation of acting contrary to economic interests and on the other hand the DoT panel went ahead and invited the same NGO for an opinion.

It must be pointed out here that Ford Foundation has spent 100s of millions of dollars in the USA funding campaigns that lobbied for Net Neutrality in that country. In that context it must be asked in what capacity did the DoT Panel deem it fit to invite Ford Foundation for Consultation in India ?

DoT Panel Recommendations not binding on Government

There are 24 recommendations that have been made by the DoT panel on net neutrality. A bare reading of the report would indicate that the recommendations are by and large one sided. It may even be argued that a lot of recommendations that have been suggested by the activists have been taken into consideration while preparing this report.

To add to it, there are views of the Web Foundation that have also been taken into account in this report. Incidentally, the founder of the Web Foundation which is an NGO happens to be on the board of Ford Foundation.

While cherry picking International Practices and Views the recommendations are also silent about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's rejection of Net Neutrality and views on Paid Prioritization. It must however be pointed out that the Panel Recommendations are not binding on the Government which sources tell us will make up its mind once it hears from TRAI on the same.

While the debate on Net Neutrality rages on one important aspect that needs to be taken into account is the manner in which DoT Panel recommendations will create a role for NGOs to meddle, audit and breed the same kind of Activism we are already witnessing with RTI, RTE and NREGA. Do we really need more NGOization of Governance that too in the Internet ?

Some saving grace:
There are a few recommendations such as domestic calling VoIP OTT apps to be subjected to same rules as telcos while International calling VOIP OTT Apps be exempted. Another recommendation where there would be no regulatory regime for general OTT apps is also in the right direction.

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