Mark Zuckerberg and Narendra Modi
Mark Zuckerberg and Narendra ModiFacebook

Indian users of the internet are enjoying a season of freedom and accessibility after the Modi government came to power in May 2014, says a new survey report released by Freedom House on Wednesday, 28 October.

This was in sharp contrast to a good number of countries around the world which have seen growing internet regulation and censorship.

The report showed tha online freedom has declined for the fifth consecutive year in 42 of the 65 countries surveyed. This strangulation of global internet freedom has been occurring since June 2014. But the case has been otherwise in India.

The report has given each country surveyed an internet freedom score. Countries with a lower score have experienced fewer barriers to internet access. India's score improved from 42 in 2014 to 40 in 2015.

Freedom House, an independent organisation that keeps tab on global democracy and human rights, noted that the elimination of Section 66A of the IT Act in 2015 as one of the key reasons behind India's improved internet freedom.

"Though the Supreme Court also upheld the IT Act's Section 69A, which authorizes government blocking of online content, it did make the blocking process more transparent, and strengthened intermediary liability protection," the report further said.

It also said that during the one year of Modi government, India continued to be the third largest internet consumer after the United States and China, and "saw positive developments in terms of the regulatory framework, declining detentions for online speech, and burgeoning digital access."

Both governmental as well as non-governmental initiatives like the "Digital India Initiative" introduced in 2015 were also highlighted by the report, as among the reasons to address internet censorship issues.

"In 2015, India's internet users spoke out to defend net neutrality in record numbers, demonstrating a real commitment to equal, open access to online content," said Madeline Earp, "Freedom on the Net"'s Asia research analyst.

More than one million people took to the streets in April 2015 in support of net neutrality and prevent internet regulation, permitting telecommunications providers to charge extra money for select services.

"At the same time, network shutdowns in the name of security and a lack of transparency about blocking and surveillance are limits on internet freedom that kept the country's rating 'partly free'," the report also noted.

India has 302 million internet subscribers, but the penetration among the public continues to stay low with 20% in June 2014 to 24% in March 2015.

By contrast, mobile penetration has seen a sharp increase, attaining 77% by March 2015, with over 969 million subscribers. In fact, of 302 million internet subscribers, 283 million people access the internet solely through their mobile, revealed the report.

India is one of the 28 countries that have been labelled "partly free" in terms of internet accessibility. Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, and neighbouring Bangladesh are some of the other countries that have also been termed "partly free".

As far as the other countries are concerned, China has the sternest internet barriers, followed by Syria and Iran. Sri Lanka and Zambia, after recently undergoing changes in the government, were highlighted to have made the biggest progression in internet freedom as a whole.

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