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'DOT free' campaign goes online

By: R Jayshankar                On: Wednesday August 3, 1994

COMPUTER BUFFS from all over the country have decided to form a Forum for Rights to Electronic Expression (FREE) to “preserve and enhance the fundamental rights in the electronic domain and to protect the freedom of expression in cyberspace.”

In an open letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the forum said the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) monopoly of satellite and international communications was unacceptable and suggested that the DoT’s regulatory functions be separated from the supervisory role. Interconnection of data communication networks is a must for communications to catch up in India, it said.

It has also requested the DoT to encourage high-volume use of the telecom network and abolish the licence fee for tax and modem and value-added services.

“Regulatory authority and service provision must be separated, if a serious conflict of interest is to be avoided. DoT’s track record in either field is hardly encouraging: interminable delays, poor quality and rampant inefficiency and corruption characterize telecom across the country,” the letter said.

The forum said that if telecom in India is to become an asset in India’s economic growth rather than the liability, the opening up of international communications arena to private companies was needed.

At present calls beyond a certain minimum are charged at a higher rate, fax and data users are charged high initial setup costs and extra annual tarrifs. The world over, high-volume users benefit from incentives and special schemes designed to encourage high-volume use. The contrary approach in Indian telecom can only slow the development of the network the letter said.

“FAX and modem users are a large source of income for the DoT, as well as the more technologically advanced users of the network. Placing hinderances in their path is counterproductive and will only discourage the use of new technology in the country,” it noted.

Arguing for interconnection of networks, FREE said that for instance, an electronic mail from a user in Delhi to another user who is also in Delhi cannot be send on the network of the same E-mail provider, but would have to be said via the United States. “The DoT must encourage co-operative interconnection of networks. It is good for everybody and it builds infrastructure at no cost to the DoT.”

On the licence fee the forum said that when value-added services do not demand any extra infrastructure from the DoT, or receive any spec

The forum said that it was high time that DoT thought of amending the Indian Telegraph Act. “The Act was is better suited to the needs of an imperialistic power than to those of a free society. Its provisions deal with poles and ‘telegraphs’, not modems, satellites and optical technologies.

The letter said individuals and organizations must be allowed unhampered access to the nation’s communications infrastructure without discrimination and data communications infrastructure and services in the country.

The forum argued that citizens are fully capable of self regulation, and do not need Government bodies to monitor or censor electronic communications – for instance, the self regulatory, open nature of the world’s two most successful global public networks, Fidonet and the Internet.

The experts in the forum said in the letter that amateur datacom enthusiasts and hobbyists play a vital role in pushing the limits of technology, making it more user-friendly and making it available to the wider public. “They, therefore, should be encouraged.”

“In discussions relating to such issues, FREE will seek to oppose those policies or practices of the Government that development, including the imposition of arbitrary taxes or fees, and excessive rates and tarrifs.

“To enable and promote detailed discussion of subjects that fall within the above ambit, FREE forum have been set up on electronic bulletin boards services (BBS’s) in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and other cities.

These bulletin boards are electronically interlinked, so that any message posted to a FREE forum in one city is automatically copied to the FREE forum on BBS’s in all other linked cities. “All FREE published documents are a result of a consensus among its members arrived at through his process of discussion,” the letter stated.

There are over 10000 users of the bulletin board service all over the country.