15 August 1995, a day when India celebrated its 48th Independence was another revolutionary day in the history of India when Indians got access to free information all over the world via Internet and within 6 months ten thousand people took access to this free information. Today there are 243 million users who are connected to this network called the Internet.
After all these years of using internet for free have you ever imagined, what would you do if you are charged for sharing your status on Facebook? Whom are you going to complain if Wikipedia took a very long time to open up when you have to complete your project the next day? Where will you go if you are forced to pay for viewing videos on YouTube. What other best alternative will you have when you are not allowed to use Google to search content on the Internet.
That will be a black day in the history of India for every technocrat, every student, every person who has an urge for sharing or gaining information which used to be available for free since the Internet came into existence.
Since few days there has been a buzz word going around called #NetNeutrality.
Let me explain you this terrible, technical sounding phrase which even suffers a proper definition.
Telecom operators/ISPs are access services providers who have started believing that they have right to control either how much you access, what you access, how fast you access and how much you pay to access content and services on the Internet.
Access to Internet for knowledge, services, free speech, as well as freedom and ease of doing business online has become a basic need in our society. For this access to be neutral, all sites must be equally accessible with same access speed that you have opt for and at same data cost for access to each content on per KB/MB basis.
This means, Net Neutrality is about:
– No telecom-style licensing of Internet companies
– No gateways (Internet.org, Airtel OneTouch Internet, Data VAS), censorship or selection
– No speeding up of specific websites (that may or may not pay telcos)
– No “zero rating” or making some sites free over others
Till recently telecom companies had enjoyed a great run in India stashing thousands of crores in profits. During this time, they've largely focused on selling voice minutes - while at the back end they have been using voice over internet protocol(VOIP) to connect with other telcos and deliver calls using the internet. Given that the cost of VOIP is a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional voice calls they were charging, they raked in the moolah.
But thanks to the advent of Whats-app, Skype and Google Hangout- consumers can get the same voice calls delivered at internet prices, direct to their handsets which have started putting the hole in their pockets.
So now these telcos want to charge for the internet differently based on how you use it for which they have come up with an explanation as said by Mr. Sunil Mittal, MD of Bharti airtel, "Today, Google, Yahoo! and others are enjoying at the cost of network operator. We are the ones investing in setting up data pipes and they make the money. There is interconnection for voice then why not for data.They are completely bypassing the telecom operator. There should be a fair revenue share - If we have to build the highways, there has got to be a tax on highways. You cannot have automobiles running on these highways which are paying nothing"
You might be wondering - I already pay more if I use more bytes and I'm fine with that.
Well, this is different - they want the right to charge what they want, when they want and how they want, with no logic whatsoever. In effect, if Airtel doesn't like Gaana.com or Saavn.com but wants to push its own music app Wynk - it wants the right to offer that for free while charging you a bomb to access the Gaana or Saavn.
One of our telcos, Reliance, has already gone ahead with this Facebook-driven evil scheme called Internet.org - where you can access Bing for free, but you have to pay to access Google - and you have access to BabaJobs for free, while you have to pay for Naukri.com.
This breaks the very nature of the Internet for which it was designed.
Given the internet's indispensable nature, it needs to be treated as public utility just like electricity. As electricity suppliers don't discriminate among their customers on basis of electrical appliances used, same way it's no business of ISPs to decide which website should be free or get preferential access.
Internet.org and Zero rating plans like "Airtel Zero" will be specially disadvantageous to start-ups, who will have to pay the distributor to offer their apps on the platform, and this will lead to monopolization by a few and squeeze out the small companies.
This is the reason why a stand in favor of net neutrality needs to be made before those with deep pockets hijack the digital revolution and dreams of Digital India, killing the goose that laid Golden eggs.