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Guest Column: Your unconcerned attitude towards 'net neutrality' may push your country back: Sanjeev Kotnala

09-April-2015
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Guest Column: Your unconcerned attitude towards 'net neutrality' may push your country back: Sanjeev Kotnala

India has always been a polarised market between the have and have-nots, rich and poor, educated and illiterates. In one area there existed no differentiation, the capability to access Internet. We all were charged equally. There were no biases. That is going to change and we will see the creation of Digital Divide. That is if we decide to remain mute spectator to the things planned by Telco’s and TRAI.

Maybe it is time for a constitutional amendment that ensures ‘net neutrality right’ as much as freedom of speech. India stands to be dragged backward and chained to information denial if this single most damaging possibility ‘death of net neutrality’ becomes a reality. If there was ever a cause to rise and revolt by the so-called literates in this country, this is it. Your patriotic dedication, in service of the nation should push you toward negating these dark clouds. Being Blind to it is an option for social cowards.

As consumers we were eagerly awaiting moving towards the dream world of an open Internet, which would allow us to access and amplify the full potential of Internet. Where means to access will not discriminate on the basis of content provider and/or the end user. That was till TRAI bomb of selective pricing that can create preferential Traffic shaping and undemocratic differentiation started ticking with a scheduled date of detonation on April 22, 2015.

We have been trained to accept a differential pricing based on the speed of data access. And it seems logical.  We adapted and accepted. If there are some places where you get free data access, like at the airport or some colleges that is also fine by us. Now, with TRAI and Telcos we are being forced toward a reverse Darwinian evolution in digital space. It maybe a complex matrix of the content /digital address and the data access speed that would define what you pay and as an extension what you access. This is differential treatment and pricing of data access. 

You will get free access when hen the digital entity being accessed will be paying Telco’s an access fee as per the deal signed. Like the Flipkart deal with Airtel that is being quoted. The other competitive brands may then be forced to move and sign the deal or the Telco’s will be free to decide the charges and speed at which the consumer can access them. In a very clear manipulation, the fee to access may start shaping the sites that are accessed. In process it will impact the democratic power of freedom of speech and access.

More over, the freely accessible digital content may be available at a speed defined by the deal between Telco and content provider. It is a different kind of wall that is slowly coming in disguised as free and paid Internet. It allows the Telco’s to define digital market future reach, access and success. It will ensure that only the large digital and service/content providers may survive and grow larger.  The smaller or new entrants may end up paying heavy price and are most likely to die. At least in Indian context this will slow down the speed and the urge of innovation by short-circuiting possibilities of success.

Telcos threatened by the ease and potentially low charges on Voice delivered at Internet prices are looking up to this differential internet prices as a way of controlling the market and protecting their business.  It is easy to provide free access to select sites and project that under the much-wasted marketing ploy of ‘Value addition’. One cannot stop it and be bothered till the Telco is not charging the digital content provided. Otherwise these are simple market manipulative processes.

It is time for Telco’s to read the writing on the wall and change the business model. They need to innovate and evolve as Digico’s – a digital / Internet conduit. Maybe there is still time for the Telco’s to innovate and survive on their own instead of manipulating policies and punching consumers with polarised differential internet access tariff plans. It will only create a barrier to the fast evolving digitally savvy population. We know the lure of free and how even the most discerning get tempted.

The net-neutrality argument presented by Mahesh Murthy is powerful. He said ‘I think we consumers should have the ability to pick whichever social network, job site and search engine we want - and not leave it to some rapacious Telco or social network to decide what we should use’. Add the views expressed by Tim Bersners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. He says ‘Of course, (net neutrality) is not just about blocking and throttling. It is also about stopping ‘positive discrimination’, such as when one Internet operator favours one particular service over another. If we don’t explicitly outlaw this, we hand immense power to Telco’s and online service operators. In effect, they can become the gatekeepers - able to handpick winners and the losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services and platforms over those of others. This would crowd out competition and snuff our innovative new services before they even see the light of the day”.

Be neutral and the net-neutrality will die. Here are some  some simple steps suggested by Mahesh Murthy that  you can take to do  your little bit to stop.

1. Sign the petition at http://goo.gl/OmbkNc. I am 105046th   person to sign the petition and we still need 44,954 more to sign for our voice to be heard.

2. Or as suggested by Mahesh Murthy you could even write directly to TRAI at advqos@trai.gov.in.

3. Share this subject and your point of view with as many people as possible. Use the social media and any media to communicate this.

Expecting august industry bodies like IAA, AAAI , FICCI to have a collective common opinion that they could present to the Telecom Minister or reach out via Information and broadcasting Minister maybe too much to ask.  Maybe it is better to impress the industry leaders like Sam Balasara, Piyush Pandey, Prasson joshi, Sunder Swamy with higher influence  to reach out to the  Prime Minister and make the point.

I maybe erroring in presuming that A CANDLE MARCH or A DIGITAL FAST in support of net-neutrality would be too much to expect from you digital savy population of india. Or do you think we all could converge at some place early next week and protest siliently. 

It is our right to work toward a sovereign democratic internet access where there is No discrimination in terms of speed, No discrimination in terms of access and No discrimination in terms of cost.

The author is Head Catalyst, Sanjeev Kotnala.
 

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