The Tsunami of protests and flake of the irked netizens has forced Flipkart to withdraw from the Airtel Zero platform. TRAI (Telcom Regulatory Authority of India) has received 3 lakh emails so far from India’s fuming internet population.
Airtel’s Airtel Zero, is a platform that allows internet companies to pay to Airtel to allow the consumers access certain apps for free. Anything free is always tempting and sounds lucrative at the outset. But, free always has a hidden cost, when the user will try to get to a site that has not paid with the telecom operator, the site will be either blocked or very slow. The whole concept is a staunch violation of the freedom of Net and its open and neutral nature. What is Net Nutrality?
As defined by Wikipedia, Net Neutrality is the principle that the internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
“Net Neutrality” literally means that the internet should be neutral i.e the data on the net should be available without any biases, discriminations and democratically. Each data should be treated equally in terms of speed, access and cost. Access to knowledge, freedom of speech, innovation as well as ease of doing business are the core benefits of the internet and the internet owes its success to it’s neutrality–the fact that the net provides equal access to all legal websites and services, without prioritizing one over the other.
Net Neutrality tends to maintain the internet like a public utility, like electricity or water, same for everybody.
Airtel Zero is not the only violators of Net Neutrality; other telecomm companies have also tried a piece of the pie:
- The Reliance-Facebook deal for Internet.org- free access on 2G and 3G networks in select part of the country
- The free WhatsApp pack by Reliance in 2012– free Facebook and WhatsApp to its GSM users for Rs.16 per month, without extra data cost.
- Aircel and Wikipedia (2013)-free Wikipedia on Mobile phones.
- Reliance and Twitter pack (2013)- free Twitter access pack for reliance user.
Free is the catch and the carrot to increase their consumer base. The question remains as to why should it be free of charge on a particular network while accessing other sites would incur data charges? Why should one website get preferential treatment? All these freebies are violating the freedom and equality of the internet. It is debatable as to who will benefit more, the telecoms or the user.
Benefits of Net Neutrality
- No Throttling- The cost of downloading is the same, irrespective of the content the user is accessing.
- No Censorship- There is no restriction as to the kind of content or the quantity that one can download besides connection rates.
- No Restriction- There is no restriction on accessing any part of the internet [except for content blocked by the Government]
- Capitalism- It provides a free market, an equal platform for start ups and for competing companies.
Without Net Neutrality
- Monitoring- The ISP,s would be monitoring all the content, product or services that their customers would be viewing. The availability of the content would depend on which content provider can pay to be there.
- Restrictions- Access to the web pages can get restricted, depending on who pays what. For E.g. peer to peer file transfers can be blocked, along with criticisms, political, social or business.
- Throttling- Intentionally slowing down some websites or speeding up others, the ones who have paid the ISP’s.
- Higher Cost- The increased cost to the service or content providers will eventually be extracted from the customers only and they only will end up paying more.
- Anti-Competition- The ISP’s could prevent access to their competitor’s products, services, or web pages.
The kind of ecosystem that will be created without neutrality and preferential treatment in the virtual world can only encourage splitting the net to fractions. The net will be split to free and paid, big and small companies, Indian and Global. Different services free on different operators and as result numerous small companies.
The commercial arrangements between the telecomm and the internet companies will also shift the free access of data from a public internet to an internet mall with preferential access to the loaded companies. The ISP’s will become like gatekeepers to a valuable resource. The start ups would find it difficult to get viewer ship, OTT(over the top services) like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, WeChat will start costing more. The telecoms feel that these OTT services have taken away a large share of their revenues with their free SMS and free calling. The fact is that the telecomm do benefit from these apps. More app usage means more data consumed and more revenue, hence their loss is debatable.
The final call is yet to be taken by the IT ministry, the government needs to insure the public interest and ensure an egalitarian internet.