TRAI received more than a million emails justifying the internet neutrality rules. Well, as Einstein once said about a book called ‘100 Authors Against Einstein’ which was essentially a criticism of his Theory of Relativity – “If I were wrong then one would be enough”. Net Neutrality is surely a lot less complicated than the Theory of Relativity and seriously, telling it once should be enough that the neutrality of the internet must be protected at all costs. Yet, a million emails seem inadequate to prove the point. Anyway I thought that why should I be left behind. This is the excerpt from the letter I wrote to TRAI in my support of Net Neutrality:
It took me some time to explain the issue around net neutrality to my father who is a retired government official. He has been for long in-charge of many rules and regulations in his department and yet the core concepts of internet neutrality were a bit complex for him at first. But, since I could make him understand eventually and ultimately agreed that what Airtel and other ISPs are trying to achieve is wrong, I think you would come to the same conclusion too.
It is not a matter of politics or a philosophical conjuncture at all. In fact I feel that debating this issue in the parliament is completely unnecessary since, if we all have the right intentions and if we all are aware of the matter in its full context and relevance then the decision would be just a simple no to all zero rating schemes right away.
From what we know so far from the Airtel Zero is that it allows a free internet plan for people who can’t afford internet by charging the content creators (or website owners) instead of users. That just sounds good because in fact companies like Airtel device such schemes for habit formation only. It will not take a day for them to start charging the users in the future. Charging the website owners automatically limits the websites that are accessible via zero rating internet. Whether or not all websites registered on the zero rating system are treated equally, this new discount internet is a violation of fundamental internet neutrality.
The habit formation aspect of the corporate intentions must not be underestimated. Since the majority of younger generation will adopt zero rating, eventually they will start seeing the “limited internet” as the standard model of internet. When we want every section of our society to learn to use the internet then we need to make sure that the internet retains its spirit and essence as well. Giving some sections of the society a free or cheap version of internet that actually is not internet at all but a slightly more interactive version of the cable TV is just as discriminatory as not letting them use the internet. The full potential of internet as an active media has to be protected as we’ve seen what happened to all the passive media sources like TV and newspaper. They just sold out.
I see a little agenda and benefit for the government in letting net neutrality slip away. Certainly, internet would be a much easier to control and moderate if it were like TV but the coming generation should not be simply fed on agendas and there should be scope of individual thought for all and that is where true democracy perpetuates. Sure a rich man can have a 2 MBPS unlimited internet connection at home and a poor man can avail that at a cyber cafe at Rs.10 per hour but in essence everyone uses the same internet.
Moreover, who are ISPs to charge content owners? They do not own our content. ISPs already charge the organizations and individuals for using internet bandwidth. ISPs can charge for the bandwidth only because they are simply delivering the bits and bytes of the information but not for the information itself because that is not generated by them. It is illegal and unjustified. I will no longer try to prove this point by saying that it will retard the growth of internet and content will become the sole playground of organized media because those who are not ready to acknowledge that then they are lying to themselves.
What Gopal Vittal of Airtel says in defense of Airtel Zero is a lousy piece of disinformation that he has un-creatively copied from the statement of Mark Zuckerberg yapping about Internet.org. The options that Government has now is to either facilitate everyone (most of whom don’t even care about internet) with a mutilated, entertainment driven internet or to risk delaying the internet penetration by keeping its essence intact. It’s a trick and somebody up there has to have the integrity to decide the right course for our future. Funny thing is that on one hand government is worried about internet addiction and on the other hand they are considering to allow everyone to get hooked on to a very addictive, largely useless paid content on the zero rating internet. Will be interesting to watch what comes out of it but I must say that digital entrepreneurs and content creators are surely going to suffer. I hope the good government will not hurt us so bad.
Please leave your ideas and thoughts on net neutrality in the comments below.