Net neutrality has been a contentious issue in America and Europe, and now India, with over 300 Mn internet users, is witnessing massive online protests over fears that country’s telecom providers will compromise net neutrality to increase their profit margins. The issue has garnered mainstream attention for the first time, thanks to a sustained effort in the form of ‘Savetheinternet.in’, an online campaign that raises public awareness about the importance of net neutrality.
The outcry over protecting net neutrality was sparked by two recent developments. First, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) solicited the opinion of internet users on how over-the-top (OTT) apps and services, such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber, should be regulated. This led to concerns that TRAI might be considering taking a pro-telco stand.
The second development that ignited the passionate campaign in the county was the announcement of ‘Airtel Zero’ by India’s largest telecom provider, Bharti Airtel Limited. Airtel Zero was touted as a platform that will allow subscribers to use certain apps for free; the caveat - companies will have to pay Airtel for ‘promoting’ their services. The move was seen by many as discriminatory and heavily biased in favour of those companies who had deep pockets.
These two developments led to a massive campaign about preserving net neutrality in India. TRAI has received more than 300,000 emails in support of net neutrality and Airtel has been on the defensive, with partners, such as the e-commerce giant Flipkart, backing out of its Airtel Zero platform.
Net Neutrality is Crucial for Keeping the Internet Open & Free
Net neutrality is important for keeping internet open and free. The likes of Google and Facebook wouldn’t have made it so big had internet been partisan. Without net neutrality, new companies who don’t have the purse to pay ISPs to ‘promote’ them will be out of the race and it will only be big players who will be competing against each other.
Over the years, technological innovations have helped us connect with our near and dear ones in a quick and cost-effective way. The development of WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype have augured well for the common man, as users can simply call or text someone without having to pay exorbitant charges to their telecom provider. The adoption of these apps on a massive scale has led to revenue decline for telecom companies. The telcos have been lobbying that OTT players share a percentage of their revenues on the premise that these companies use the infrastructure of telecom companies for providing calling and texting services.
Although the popularity of OTT services has reduced the revenue generated by telcos through calling and texting charges, it has also increased their coverage for data services. The number of active internet users around the world has grown tremendously through the years and the situation is no different in India. Millions of Indians have got access to mobile internet in the recent years, and the subscription of data packs has generated substantial revenues for the telcos.
Net Neutrality Shouldn’t be Compromised
Charging for OTT services can be the first step towards differential pricing, and this could set the tone for the future of the internet. If net neutrality is compromised, telecom providers would be in a position to dictate terms to internet users. Instead of browsing according to one’s own wish, we will be forced to watch videos or listen to music that barely interests us just because our ISP has a vested interest in it. Therefore, net neutrality matters for everyone - for someone who uses internet once in a while and for someone whose livelihood depends on it.