BOTH NET AND ZERO
The most wonderful feature of the Internet is that it has minimized the information gap between people.It symbolizes the two most sought after aspects of life-Freedom and expression.No doubt that even the slightest interference with this phenomenon is subject to scrutiny and outcry.
So what exactly is net neutrality? It is that all internet based content should be treated in the same way,without any discrimination based on speed or cost of access.The operators cannot throttle speeds to promote one service over another. Net neutrality ensures network operators do not discriminate by limiting access to internet based services for their own reasons.For instance,your peer-to-peer application might be carrying very large amount of traffic .Your network operator did not find it profitable and hence, may block some content or cut down your network service .On the other hand,if you pay them well,you will continue to get seamless service.
So while Airtel launched ‘Airtel-Zero’ and Facebook created ‘Internet.org’,there has been a hue and cry that they are against net neutrality. Airtel-Zero is a platform by which app developers and ISPs will be able to make a part of or entire mobile apps free for customers.With internet.org,Facebook has collaborated with certain mobile operators to offer free access,to basic internet services, in local languages, in areas like jobs, health, education and communication.
It is argued against that if suppose,Facebook pays an ISP so that users can access FB mobile app for free,it’ll use much more network bandwidth.This may cause throttling of speeds for other sites or information .In case of Internet.org,they say that it is an attempt to create a fast lane for itself and multiply its revenues manifold.
I agree that any business idea will have some personal interests attached to it.But amidst all the criticism,I feel we are ignoring two very important things – One,that Internet has transformed the world by providing access to information,freedom and expression.But internet penetration in India is still very low.We lack a lot of basic network infrastructure to cater to such a large and diverse population.With such innovative platforms,millions of less priviledged sections can be brought online to join the mainstream.It would be grossly unfair to deny them this immense opportunity.
Two,why not think of ways that both net neutrality and zero rating platforms can exist together.Tough measures to ensure that no monopolistic practices take place can be adopted.If the loopholes can be plugged,this can give a huge boost to app developers and start-ups.
Yes,striking the right balance will not be easy. But let us not outright reject it. There is still much more clarity needed on this highly complex and multidimensional issue.Open Internet is of utmost importance.At the same time, it is also important to allow new ideas to touch the lives of millions of people who ‘badly want to’ but ‘cannot’.I hope we can have both!