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HomeOpinionsWhy the Net Neutrality activists are nothing but scaremongers

Why the Net Neutrality activists are nothing but scaremongers

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For the last few days, we have a gang of net neutrality “activists” who have suddenly activated their sleeper cells again after April 2015. They are backed by a second tier of mercenary influencers- stand-up comics etc. who don’t even know what net neutrality is, leave alone reading the 2 TRAI consultation papers.

All their arguments center not around facts but on a propaganda that if so & so is implemented then “some demons will roam free” and at times internet would become very expensive (they fell into their own trap when free internet restricted to few sites was released.)

I’ll take down all their arguments one by one here. But what I find most amusing is that these net neutrality “experts” mostly don’t have a technical background & the rest are from such nondescript engineering colleges that I expect nothing better of them anyway.    

For those interested in reading the 2 consultation papers, here is the link-

  1. http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReaddata/ConsultationPaper/Document/OTT-CP-27032015.pdf
  2. http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReaddata/ConsultationPaper/Document/CP-Differential-Pricing-09122015.pdf

The first is a bit lengthy at 150 pages but the second is just 11 pages. I found both the papers quite balanced, suggesting views from across the spectrum and inviting comments. When the first was released these experts, chiefly among them Nikhil Pawhwa of Medianama, started scaremongering without even reading the paper. That is obvious as the paper even had the views he advocated & that it was a consultation paper and didn’t impose anything.

If you don’t have the time to read it like most or find it filled with too much of technical jargon, don’t worry I’ll put it across in layman’s terms now. 3 terms are being used often in this discussion-

  1. Net Neutrality
  2. Zero Rating – all content be treated the same
  3. Free Basics – certain free content to be given by FB’s Internet.org platform

All three are pretty simple terms that are obfuscated (made obscure) purposefully by these people. Comparatively the TRAI consultation papers put forward the points in very simple language. First of all net neutrality has no fixed water-tight definition & has been used in a varied form in different countries.

Broadly it is treating all data packets the same. I personally find it a very stupid idea. I’ll elaborate why here- suppose you’re watching a live cricket match online & access your mail on your tab you don’t want the telecast to drop. You would be okay with your mail loading a bit slowly.

Second aspect that isn’t yet thought of in India as we are yet to see adoption of IoT (internet of things). In it, for example, you have 2 cars communicating their positions so that they don’t collide. That data has to be dealt with on a priority basis. Again, youtube uses CDN including caching servers that make the videos load faster for each user. This would also violate net neutrality & if competitors like dailymotion file complaints it will only stop innovation. How is it the fault of youtube if dailymotion doesn’t innovate or invest in CDNs ? Also the only loser here will be the consumers.

It is like the pre-liberalisation markets of India when you had the option of buying only a substandard Fiat Padmini & not an imported car that’s better at the same price. Same for FMCG. The problem now is that everyone who’s speaking against net neutrality is perceived to be totally pro-Facebook’s free basics.

I don’t like their weak PR campaign calling it “philanthropy”. Instead they should have just said its our business expansion model & if you have have an issue as a competitor, you are free to come up with your own similar or dissimilar business models. When e-commerce sites gave huge discounts backed by VC capital no hullabaloo was created. Here too a major concern that any new app won’t be able to compete in there’s a restricted Internet.org as competitive apps would be free but theirs won’t. The basic fallacy here can be seen in 2 points-

  1. The newer users wouldn’t be too experimentative with their app usage anyway. They would have used popular apps even if they started using internet fresh on their own
  2. Any good apps will be overtime backed by VCs who would ensure it comes up bundled free on Internet.org or its competitor say Airtel Zero or any other platform

Even today why do we use facebook or whatsapp or other social networking apps/sites? Its because our friends use them. I wouldn’t use orkut if it was offered free & it would be similar  for most people as after using FB I liked the interface and now my friends are also using it, which was not the case when I initially joined FB in 2009. Similarly any new app that becomes popular among users of unrestricted internet would over time be popular among those using the free subsidized internet.

Another concern because of the constant scaremongering by these people is that the prices of internet access or packs will shoot up drastically. But this is another lie being peddled. Right now we hardly have any websites or apps in regional languages & this is also a reason for low internet penetration in rural areas in addition to low internet infrastructure. These are two concerns that need to be addressed together as they are related.  I’ll digress from the topic at hand and come to it.

This free internet model is basically similar to free first rides on Uber/Ola etc., on it you can browse facebook but not view media/pics for free. Basically all the business are trying to introduce you the wonderful world of the internet or in other words make you an addict. Pick whatever you choose; its the same thing.

Facebook & other players who would benefit from the rural users would thus share the cost burden  with the telecom companies & ISPs to develop the internet infrastructure there. This will spur a demand for regional language websites & apps. Not just that it will also spur Indic computing & localisation. Again the same free internet platform can be used by the government to ensure e-governance reaches all. This would make the government initiatives & services within the reach of a smartphone for the rural population in their local language.

Again I find the logic used that facebook would earn a lot from this initiative but is doing nothing in return. First, even Google is rolling free internet by building the internet infrastructure at railway stations and through project loon. Google & facebook are using buoys & drones to distribute internet in farflung areas globally through such platforms. Also none of these “experts” talked about the point in the TRAI paper where the government had a proposal to tax the OTT services like facebook or whatsapp depending on its traffic (hence ad revenue).  

The misreporting my a media that hardly has anyone who understands tech has totally confused most people.

I am not sure if you would interested in stats, if you are read  the TRAI paper-

http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReaddata/ConsultationPaper/Document/OTT-CP-27032015.pdf

Recommended if you are interested. Its in layman’s terms.

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