What is Net Neutrality and why we need it?

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Net Neutrality in India is the need of a time and if you lose it, you will never the see the web like the way it is now.

The Net-Neutrality is the new big buzz in the town It has suddenly exploded on social media with multiple signature campaigns, most of which are in favor of keeping the net neutral. The government says it is waiting for two reports, one from its own committee, and the other from the Telecom Regulator (TRAI), which has put out a paper with suggestions and asked the public to respond over 3 lakh responses, according to some reports. But if you aren’t quite clear about what has triggered this national controversy, here is a quick primer.

Actually the net neutrality is the all about the money and access to the net. Current scenario is free access to any website over the WWW (World Wide Web). You can search for anything and go to any site on the net and the internet service provider (mainly telcos like Airtel, RCom) will debit/charge the user for each byte they use from whatever plan they have. So if you have a 3GB plan, you can download 3GB of data per billing cycle (normally a month) Simple. So what’s the problem?

The problem here is the telecom companies who are planning to apply the costs on the net access over and above your present internet access plans. The reason behind this policy is the use of internet to make calls and chat which according to the TELCOs is bypassing their paid services. The websites like whatsapp, skype, viber and other such apps are providing the free calling services sitting on their network cables and bypassing their revenue generation.

According to the information provided by the Telecom companies their SMS services fell by 1000 million or 18% between June 2013 and June 2014. International calls, which account for 10% of the telcos revenues, fell by upto 25%. Other services, like cricket scores and stock market info that earlier came through Value Added Services (which were billed separately to the customer) was also compromised.  So, obviously the telcos wanted to cover such losses. They believed that since you can’t do away with the internet and its apps, perhaps it is best to join them.

Finally they chose to follow the path that US cable operators had tried for the number of years. the FCC (the US regulatory body) implemented net neutrality this February, stopping the plan to offer “premium” internet services for free, or at high speed. Internet service providers would then charge the internet companies like, say Facebook, a premium for being on the fast track. It is a bit like what cable operators in India do, which is to charge television channels a carriage or placement fee.

THE FUTURE OF NET IN ABSENCE OF NET-NEUTRALITY
THE FUTURE OF NET IN ABSENCE OF NET-NEUTRALITY

In February this year, RCom announced an agreement with Facebook amongst others, where they would not charge for usage of these sites by subscribers. RCom did not release any information about the commercial understanding between them and Facebook and others. On April 6, Airtel joined them by offering a similar package called Airtel Zero, which allowed subscribers to go to the selected internet sites without using any of their data plan. In other words, free access to this selected world of the internet. Sounded wonderful people who could not afford to pay for this access would now be able to use various apps for free.

Within no time the social media revolted against this policy, it exploded with the subject of Net-Neutrality.  The argument was that net neutrality is a fundamental right and any effort to restrict a free and open means of communication was unacceptable. According to them giving the preference to A over B is discrimination of their rights and it could lead to the suppression of the fundamental right to the free speech in due course of time if taken to extreme. In a way that is also true, as by making the access expensive to (or slow and hard to get) particular sites by the operators means that those with the deeper pockets could push their views across better on particular topics or issue than those who cannot afford to reach out.

The abolition of net neutrality would also mean that e-commerce companies with large revenue would dominate the markets and increase their monopoly, as small players and startups would find it very difficult to meet the demands of the telcos for placement and for absorbing the charges that would ordinarily be borne by the customer. The level playing field that the internet offers would be gone. Furthermore, it would discourage innovation and competition from new ideas. Given that one of the fundamentals of the internet has always been that it is a place of new ideas and change, this would destroy that essence.

According to the Flipkart co-founcer Mukesh Bansal “It’s very important to make sure that the Internet grows in a manner where it is democratic, equally accessible, and with absolutely no discrimination of any kind.” In fact they were the first to jump onto the Airtel Zero ship and subsequently jumped off due to an inundation of social media criticism.  They do not want to be the subject to public criticism which would sooner or later devalue their market and their customer base in India.

For Airtel, what seemed to be a brilliant move to improve its bottom line has turned out to be a public relations disaster, both for itself as well as the concept of premium internet services. But the company has defended its position with Airtel Chief of Strategy Shyam Mardikar arguing “What we are confusing here is the concept of service neutrality to net neutrality.” The company also claims that more than a 150 companies, big and small had applied to join Airtel Zero.

The issue of service neutrality is difficult to agree with, because it is service that defines net neutrality. As for the claim that companies are rushing to join that does not negate the argument that many will not be able to afford to do so. The fact is that there has been a huge public outcry against the attempt to avoid net neutrality. That this has come at a time when TRAI and government are considering the issue of internet neutrality should have an impact on the regulatory decisions.

Source of Article: NDTV

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