The conversation around net neutrality is picking up steam and everyone is weighing in. For internet-based companies, it makes perfect sense to ensure that the nascent online ecosystem is not burdened by unnecessary regulations and rules. No wonder then that there is an overwhelming support in this sector for net neutrality.
We spoke to some of them and here is what they had to say.
Manav Sethi, Group CMO of Askme says, “Internet is an essential service and should be provided without any discrimination, zero rating platforms can seriously affect the freedom and growth of the billions of entrepreneurs, quite against the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ vision of our government. Any violation of internet neutrality can have a serious bearing on effective and fair competition in the market place. We feel it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure a level playing field for home grown entrepreneurs and at the same time protect the interests of netizens.”
Ravi Bhushan, VP of Spuul Global, when asked for his take on TRAI’s consultation paper said that the government should first regulate piracy before thinking about regulating OTT operators. “Telcos will obviously push for it, it goes down to the whole net neutrality debate. I think whenever a company or industry is threatened then they will resort to protectionist tactics like this. It is not just telcos; in any other industry in history that is the case.”
He admitted that Spuul has never faced a negative situation where a telco has threatened to throttle them. However, he agreed that asking the big OTT players to pay up for not charging customers boils down to the same thing. “If you are big enough and you can pay then it works and that is a genuine problem. We have been very pro on the net neutrality angle because from an end consumer perspective it has to the quality of the service that should which service you choose in the end. It shouldn’t be how much is the service willing to pay for particular data. And where do you stop? Who do you keep paying? Do I focus on getting good content for users or on subsidising their data charge?” said Bhushan.
Sameer Parwani, CEO & Founder of CouponDunia.in also emphasized that his company stands for net neutrality as its absence, he says, will result into emergence of monopolies or oligopolies, which will be unfair to small and budding entrepreneurs. “It would be a shame if the next big disruptive innovation is extinguished because of discrimination or deferential charges by user, content, site, platform, application, etc.,” he said.
However, unlike many others, he also commended the government on setting up a committee to study the issues related to net neutrality and consumer opinion. “We hope the decisions are made in the favour of budding entrepreneurs and consumers alike. The government needs to actively engage with telecom companies to ensure a level playing field. Internet is still a growing phenomenon in India, and all steps must be taken to ensure that commercial interests of a few do not come in the way of this digital revolution - one which starts to benefit the common man in ways unimaginable a few years ago," he added.
On the flipside, Rahul Golecha, Co-founder of Videogram feels the TRAI recommendations will be disadvantageous rather than conducive to start-ups as they will not be able to match up to the premium paid by large companies to service providers.
The fear among most is this----platforms like Airtel Zero and others will create a monopolization, where the big and the rich will flourish. “It will take away the power of innovation from budding start-ups and will restrict them from exploring the ever-growing potential of internet. From consumers’ point of view, it is extremely necessary to give them freedom of choice in order to create a developed digital ecosystem,“ argued Golecha.
“The importance of fighting the consultation paper put forth by TRAI can’t be highlighted enough. If it goes through, it is spells the end of our freedom to get information from around the globe. The whole spiral of connectedness that we bask in will crash. An open internet is the ground on which innovation is built. Entrepreneurial ventures will be at the mercy of large corporate houses, which will make people’s power to choose less and allow the honchos to thrive mostly without much threat of better creativity and newness by the youth. What's ironic is that this is supported by organizations, which were born and flourished because of the system of 'neutral net'. As a country, we deserve to net neutrality to help us grow and own a larger stake of thought leadership,” opined Zafar Rais, Founder and CEO of MindShift Interactive.
Another rapidly growing e-commerce company Infibeam has also taken a stand against, what it terms, “biased Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of the country”.
“The company is hopeful that TRAI will take right action against all ISPs for not giving neutral internet access to the consumers. Some global companies believe that free access to internet is the right of consumers. In that case, Infibeam believes that the telecom operators cannot be biased and should give free internet access to every user in India,” the company stated in an emailed statement.
Meltwater, a digital analysis agency has been following the social chatter around net neutrality since it started. Speaking to exchange4media, Zubair Timol, Director (India, Middle East & Africa) of Meltwater said, “Majorly two hashtags are trending all over Social Media with #NetNeutrality right at the centre, our tool Meltwater Buzz tracked more than 140,000 conversations over the period of last 7 days. Hashtag #savetheinternet got massive support from people with 44,000 mentions during the same period. While this issue erupted in India, it has garnered global coverage and engagement, broadening the scope of conversation."
When asked for his own take on the whole issue, Timol said that every organisation takes key business decisions based on their presence in the online space and the concept of net neutrality may influence this positioning. “On the other hand Net Neutrality also opens the gates of "Pay as you use" idea for internet usage. Only time will testify how well is it accepted by the end users,” he further added.