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Net Neutrality: A Fight For Non-Discriminatory Internet Access; WebReInvent Supports the Cause

“NDTV is committed to net neutrality and is therefore exiting, and will not be a part of, Facebook’s http://Internet.org initiative.” – Prannoy Roy, NDTV

 

Unlike the last time when Flipkart was in the news for the ‘Big Billion Day’ fiasco, India’s most valuable startup is the talking point again for its commendable move of withdrawing from the controversial ‘Airtel Zero’. Flipkart’s decision to scrap the deal with Bharti Airtel has become the new cause of euphoric celebrations, both online and offline. Winning is done. The people who espoused the cause of Net Neutrality moved a step closer to ensure ‘autonomous’ internet in the country.Here is the whole story.

Airtel’s Infamous Zero-Rating

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecommunication company, recently launched a new open marketing service with the name ‘Airtel Zero’. As soon as the entire concept came to light, the social media witnessed a storm of protest and the debate on ‘Net Neutrality’ kicked off. The service ‘Airtel Zero’ came under heavy attack because it is regarded as an infringement of the principleof the ‘open’ internet. As per the scheme, the customers will be granted free access to certain content and apps on the internet which have partnered with the ‘Airtel Zero’. In return, the service providers will have to shell out the data charges for giving cost-free access to the customers.

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Flummoxed? Let’s get an example. If WebReInvent gets into a partnership with Airtel Zero, the customers can navigate the WebReInvent’s site and use the data freely. However, Airtel will charge a fee from WebReInvent to take its services to the customers. So, WebReInvent will have to bear the entire expenses for every surfing session.

Net Neutrality: Internet Cannot be Anyone’s Fiefdom

The term ‘Net Neutrality’ was coined by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia University in the year 2003. It is a principle that says mobile operators, internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat online traffic equally and shouldn’t give any undue favors to any party. For instance, an ISP shouldn’t increase the load speed of a particular website in return for a payment while reducing the access time of the competitors. It means an Internet where every participant is equal in the eyes of ISPs. There shouldn’t be any discrimination against any application or content.

A neutral internet means consumers aren’t required to pay extra for various services, such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Skype and Viber in addition to what they are already paying for the internet connection. Everything will be equally charged irrespective of the bandwidth.

Importance of Net Neutrality

  • a. Net Neutrality should be the governing principle of the time so that we no longer remain at the mercy of the Internet providers and business corporations.
  • b. A free and unfettered Internet access will result in healthy competition. There would be no unfair efforts to chop off the rival’s lead.
  • c. Internet autonomy will prevent the ISPs and organizations from indulging in unjustifiable pricing practices.
  • d. An open internet will encourage the freedom of speech and unrestricted dissemination of innovative ideas.
  • e. Internet freedom will be beneficial to both large and small companies. It will bolster entrepreneurship.

ISP’s Benefit In Absence of Net Neutrality

The essence of the Net Neutrality is Equality and Freedom. The people who are championing the cause with a hashtag #SaveTheInternet knows that in the absence of Net Neutralitythe internet service providers willsell the internet as a commodity to the individual companies. There will be no uniform transmission, but thefast and slow lanes. While fast lanes will be reserved for companies with an ability to pay and rope in more customers, the slow lanes will be for small-budgeted bodies who cannot cough up such an excessive fee. This will end up in throttled innovation and hampered growth. An ISP will give preferential treatment to certain companies who have paid and purchased the Internet while blocking or slowing the content of the competitors. Thus, there can be no open environment.

“We believe that this is unfortunate since it appears to be with a view towards consolidating violations of network neutrality as a norm,”said the SavetheInternet.in coalition.

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Consider the Flipkart-Airtel tie-up. If Flipkart had remained a partner of Airtel-Zero, its services would have been delivered to the customers at a brilliant speed in exchange for a fee. Under such circumstances, the customers would prefer Flipkart over other eCommerce sites, which would be deemed asprejudice. But they would fail to notice the real force behind – Airtel and its zero-rating. Therefore, the issue of net Neutrality demands urgency because if not heeded, the companies and customers would be the puppets in the hands of internet service providers.

The Fallout

Airtel clearly circumvents the rules by benefitting certain companies who will pay extra for smooth and fast web access. That’s a violation of the principle that talks about no speed reduction and blockage of access to any app, website or content on the web irrespective of the device, mobile operator, internet connection, terminal and more.

Airtel clearly circumvents the rules by benefitting certain companies who will pay extra for smooth and fast web access. That’s a violation of the principle that talks about no speed reduction and blockage of access to any app, website or content on the web irrespective of the device, mobile operator, internet connection, terminal and more.

The new internet initiative by Airtel triggered a salvo of accusations, terming it as a grave violation of the Internet freedom. Bharti Airtel branded the new service as an ‘equal opportunity’, but experts feel that in the long run, the facility will dampen the enthusiasm of startups as they are not in a position to incur such exorbitant expenses for free consumer access to their services. As a result, they will lag behind in the race and we wouldn’t be able to see any new, big companies rising from the scratch like Flipkart.

“Consumers benefit, but they get pushed towards one set of publishers over others. We have put in capital in many firms and it hurts the smaller companies, which are trying to gain scale, by preferring bigger companies with the ability to pay,” Karan Mohla, associate director and head of digital consumer investment at VC firm IDG Ventures

The budding entrepreneurs have highlighted how this new service will encourage the monopoly of a few money-grabbing hands. As only big and established companies can afford tofund the access to their apps and websites, fledgling companies will fall on the losing side due to their poor financial health. No startups means no new ideas, no growing corporate base and no innovation. The power will rest in the hands of a few market leaders and the customers will face a severe shortage of options.

Facebook is No Less

Facebook is also running a platform hurting the spirit of Net Neutrality. It is Internet.org. It is there for long which clearly suggest the signing up of several apps with telcos in the past to bring customers to the facility of their services.

When the matter picked the momentum, Marc Zuckerberg immediately sprang into action to defend the initiative.

“For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programs like Internet.org are important and can coexist with net neutrality regulations,” he said.

The Role of TRAI

When the debate on ‘Unrestrained Internet’raged and many corporate participants cried foul, TRAI or Telecom Regulatory of India has stepped in to contain the public cry. Currently, it is in the process of determining the exact definition of ‘Net Neutrality’. The regulatory authority has said to receive around 800,000 mails. The issue has also reached the doorstep of the Central Government as it has formed a panel to analyze the issue.

“You will need the force of law to draw lines on what is permissible and what is not. Together, the regulator and the government will have to make it clear,” a TRAI official said.

The TRAI has launched a consultation paper inviting public feedback on whether the telecommunication companies should charge differently for different purposes. The last date for filing the feedback is April 24 and the counter comments can be posted till May 8.

Words from The Crusaders

  • a. “ISPs and telecom service providers (TSPs) will have the power to decide which service should be offered for free of cost or should be made cheap or expensive. This will amount to telling people which website they should use for online shopping. This will mean that the consumer will have no power to choose where he should shop from. It is very complex and will have far-reaching consequences,”. –Ajay Maken, Delhi Congress Chief
  • b. “Of course, we are for #NetNeutrality @snapdeal.” – Kunal Bahl, CEO – Snapdeal
  • c. “Time to draw a line in the sand, Cleartrip is pulling out of http://Internet.org & standing up for #NetNeutrality” – ClearTrip

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