Month: April 2015

Saving the internet

If you’ve been recently a little active on social networks or social circles, there would’ve been a few mentions about Net neutrality. Net neutrality, sure has a jargon ring to it. As such the topics and people are so polarized these days that I care about them as much as Rohit shetty cares about logic. We are better off with clickbait-mind-will-be-blown articles than getting into a right wing Vs liberal fight and getting the mind almost blown. Except, the debate of Net neutrality is different. Reading up for a minute about this will tell why this is different. It is not a regular outrage by a set of people about something the government might do. It is more like the equality struggle fought in 19th and 20th centuries, this time it’s a cyber version of it. Okay, I overstated it a little, but the point is this is important and will affect us very directly. If we all don’t stand up for it, the very internet, where every single engineer takes solace might change it’s form. In simple terms it will remove level from ‘level playing field’ to aspiring startup community and turn costly with lesser choices to us the users of it.

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Net neutrality in simple words is the freedom to the users of the internet to access the content over the internet without the service provider interrupting it, of course assuming we pay the service providers for the internet pack. The service provider is simply the owner of the pipe through which the data flows on the spectrum, a leased resource. The service providers bid for the spectrum allocation and develop the infrastructure i.e., the pipes that facilitate the flow of data. This is a very significant investment and as we live in a free market system, the service providers are free to set the internet prices. The IIM people of these service providers can put as many variables in their excel sheets before arriving at the price per kb of data. There is content on one side be it social networking(FB, twitter), ecommerce(flipkart, amazon) or over the top applications like zomato, bookmyshow, whatsapp and the other side is the user base accessing them. Service providers through their pipes play the all important role of connecting these two. The content providers should employ their people to develop it such a way that the users prefer them over their competitors and the users should at any point of time be free to access what they want. The service providers cannot interrupt these pipes such that users can only access one specific group of websites and not the other. It should neither ask the content providers for money for preferential treatment nor the users for speeding up few websites at a preferential cost. We as users should have the right to choose the OTT application of our choice solely based on its merits and demerits rather than the applications or their competitors paying up the service providers. Think of it like the electricity bill discriminated by the manufacturer of the air conditioner or refrigerator we have in our homes. Think of it like our gas bill being discriminated by the cutlery and cuisine we prefer. 

Innovation is the heart of any human endeavor, the innovators as such face many hurdles and they shine against all the odds. This is true even to the people working on the next big app or website. The least we could do is to provide them is net neutrality. Let them innovate freely and come up with next Facebook/Amazon/Whatsapp, We shall decide whether they make the cut or not based on their creative abilities and nothing else. Let the service providers continue to innovate on better ways of cutting costs rather charging the content providers / users.

Why the debate all of a sudden about the net neutrality you ask? Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the regulator of all telecom activities in India has come up with a consultative paper on developing a regulatory framework for Over The Top applications, It can be accessed at here . If you’re any bit like me, you shall lose interest after reading just the contents page. The Reserve Bank of India guidelines on Implementing Advanced approaches in operational risk in India is the single document that I am supposed to read as a part of my day job and I haven’t read it fully in last 2 years. The good folks at medianama have created this abridged version here for us to understand it fully. The gist is Telecom companies of India want to charge preferentially for the Applications and break the premise of the net neutrality. TRAI has come up with a consultative document to seek opinion from the public. There is a very good chance the telecom lobby might win this argument and TRAI can come up with guidelines regulating such an internet space if we don’t act to save the internet. Saving the internet is now very easy, as easy as you save a traumatic child by sharing the picture on your facebook feed, two clicks. Goto http://www.savetheinternet.in/ and click on send your response. The mail with detailed response shall be sent from your email ID to TRAI in less than a minute. Also, pat your back because you’ve taken part in the struggle the save the open internet.

I am in no way an expert on the entire concept of net neutrality. Since the debate has been public I have spent my time reading up interpretations, views of various people. I am adding up the best I have found here for reference if you do plan to read up more.

Medianama runs speical articles dedicated to net neutrality, this can be found here

Mahesh Murthy has a better and easier to understand write up on how telecom companies are screwing us, found here

John Oliver’s video on net neutrality is very popular in US and ultimately FCC has come in support of Net neutrality, found here

AIB has come up with a video supporting net neutrality, found here

Big repository of links on Net neutrality can be found here

*Image sourced from internet, not own