In the past few weeks a lot has been spoken and written about Net Neutrality and everyone is defending “Internet Freedom” in India. The critical question yet unanswered is, are we approaching the subject with a clear understanding?
Net Neutrality as explained widely is the Internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. This is the definition of an Open Internet. Net Neutrality is the principle that data on the internet is moved blindly and impartially without regard to content, destination or source.
It is difficult to argue against the definition above as it would mean that subscribers can be charged separately for using various applications even if they have paid for the Internet Data pack and also enable ISP to regulate the speed of the sites and create fast pay lanes. It surely does not sound wise and therefore it is safe to accept that Net Neutrality should be adopted.
Now let us extend the logic of the activists’ argument and assess the issue. Isn’t preferential treatment given to customers a part of well-accepted business practices, which have been used by businesses big and small from time immemorial? Then why are we propagating net neutrality to be unethical.
My whole argument against net neutrality and the debate around the subject is based on the premise that we first need to make internet available to the huge block of population in India and then address the issue of price discrimination.
While I fully subscribe to the fact the that this so called info “highway” is crucial for not only small time business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs who rely upon it to launch and monetize their offerings, create a market and distribute their wares, soft or hard. The highway is also equally important for the large businesses that could have a separate business need (read speed, type of connectivity, quality of service etc.) for the customers and services that demand a separate handling because of nuances of the business.
While the concept of free and open internet may sound right- In practice, it is important to understand that the impact of some sites/apps that demand great bandwidth can have an adverse effect on the overall user experience. For example, it makes sense to allow ISP/ telecom companies to charge extra for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) services, which clog up a lot of bandwidth. These services end up slowing down access to the basic services that less economically-privileged citizens need more. This isn’t simply a matter of profitability; the question is how to maximize the efficiency of limited bandwidth. Therefore ISP should take a more active role in managing bandwidth for the sake of optimal experiences for users’ and services. This is also where a democratic regulation comes in with all interests being protected.
Hence the real need is of a Service level agreement (SLA) based regulation that governs and dictates various levels of quality of internet connectivity and mostly importantly service providers adhere to it. With regulations in place, I think it is fair to have a legitimate differential pricing regime for either the quality or the consumption of service.
Author: Rajesh Razdan, Founder & CEO, mCarbon