If you thought we won the battle for Internet freedom and net neutrality, you couldn’t be more wrong. Before this, the massive debate that had sprung the virtual community in India more charged and arguing their viewpoints was in 2012, when Reliance started mysteriously blocking access to several dozen websites, without any reason at all, and once again when India banned a specific list of pornographic websites, without law or any reason other than self-imposed morals. Here’s everything conclusively explained:
What’s happening again?
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), today on 19th May 2016 once again has released a consultative paper issued yet another consultative paper that seeks to address the issue of differential pricing of data, which is strangely the exact same issue we fought against a while back. Essentially, the paper acknowledges the massive disagreement against differential pricing previously, but has once again worded the entire document differently seeking answers for the same problem.
What’s differential pricing?
Differential pricing is nothing but a twist with words to push against Net Neutrality. Lost brutally after an unexpected number of individuals, organisati0ns and celebrities openly supported fair and even web services, a collective of telecommunication major operatives pressurized TRAI to once again, for some illogical reason, to re-consider its decision. Ideally, it should have been rejected on the surface as it is, because the issue was already heavily discussed, consultations from the general public were already asked, the regulatory authorities were already debated and have reached a conclusive and understandable outcome. However, for some unknown reason, the move has led TRAI to once again ask the public for its views on the same issue. Such repeated moves, expecting different outcomes not only waste countless hours of manpower and resources, but also mock the efforts of those that argued against it previously.
Differential pricing means that let’s say, Airtel has a platform such as Airtel Zero, which it allows users to utilize unlimited for completely free. Now this platform may have giant companies paying exponential amounts of money to push their ads and alternatives forward to consumers faces. In this example, for the sake of clarification, the platform can offer you unlimited free music, movies and serving encyclopedia. However, it is entirely controlled by Airtel with what you see – it can restrict music only by certain artists, encyclopedia pages can be restricted to only positive views, movies can only be available of those clients that pay Airtel money. Sure, something beats nothing – but in the long run this can have frightening consequences.
How does this impact you and your business?
The entire neutrality of the internet impacts the collective intelligence of society today. Anyone connected to the internet is currently assured that he/she can look up information on the internet and get all sorts of opinions, popular as well an unpopular ones and make a decision on their own. Sure, the internet is littered with such bloatware that making the decision to the final users becomes tricky sometimes, but that’s the beautiful part of being a part of the network. Every single individual and website has an equal, fair and square opportunity to be popular, express their views and showcase their creative ideas to the public. If you want to upload your home song music video on YouTube, newer platforms may only support those paid large labels that give your service provider money. If you want to use alternate service providers information, they can simply block your access to not just alternatives, but any and every website they want. The entire control of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed would rely on the hands of private companies providing you internet!
Now the companies are arguing that they will not provided limited bandwidth to websites that aren’t sponsored, but might make sponsored content free or almost free using some sort of cash back or data back service. However this is unfair, providing certain content for free or almost free would naturally tempt anyone to use it before regular content. Indirectly, this would mean an internet that’s run by sponsored content restrictions, and not a free, uncensored playground that it is today.
What about the poor farmers and students?
One of the silliest arguments against net neutrality has been the baseless question “what about farmers?” Facebook’s Free Basic or Airtel Zero were supported by some saying that having access completely for free to some educational websites and Facebook would make a life altering difference to the poor and especially farmers and students. But these facts only apply to certain sections of the West’s economically challenged individuals, not in India. In India, poverty is unfortunately correlated with literacy rates – for almost the entire population, economically weaker farmers have little to no education. Without education, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for them to utilize a smartphone.
Secondly, even if they understand the complex usages of a smartphone, websites and the internet in general English based. Sure, websites are now offered multi-lingual and so are smart phones, but it’s not the same. Content for the most part on the internet, requires at least basic knowledge of English. Remember, in such a situation Google Translate wouldn’t exist – some third party translator would. Who knows how effective it would be?
Thirdly, how on Earth can someone justify that an economically challenged person will have money to use a smartphone but not buy a 3G pack for like 100 rupees a month? This anomaly makes no sense at all. Even if you imagine the user buying a cheap Chinese second phone, it would logically make more sense to have a world of free internet rather sponsored limited free internet.
What needs to be done to change this now?
Once again, you need to send your views opposing the draft to the official email ID provided at : firstname.lastname@example.org or call Shri Arvind Kumar, Advisor (Broadband & Policy Analysis) may be contacted at Tel. No. +91- 11-23220209 Fax: +91-11-23230056.
It makes sense to send an email instead, because that would offer you conclusive proof of your views being counted. The questions asked by TRAI are:
Question 1: Is there a need to have TSP agnostic platform to provide free data or suitable reimbursement to users, without violating the principles of Differential Pricing for Data laid down in TRAI Regulation? Please suggest the most suitable model to achieve the objective.
Question 2: Whether such platforms need to be regulated by the TRAI or market be allowed to develop these platforms?
Question 3: Whether free data or suitable reimbursement to users should be limited to mobile data users only or could it be extended through technical means to subscribers of fixed line broadband or leased line?
Question 4: Any other issue related to the matter of Consultation
The future of how the Internet is controlled now relies in the public’s hands. It is deferential for every user to share this information with as many people as possible, and send your views using the email provided before 16th June 2016. Do it for internet freedom!
Click here to read the original consultative paper by TRAI.
Join the discussion for free speech and the future of internet in the backdrop of potential toxic threats like differential pricing at our official Facebook page Entrepreneur India