Note : Kindly excuse the typos! Written in a flow with no interest for editing. Kindly do read through the links and do comment here. Post is long as the context, the uproar might be lost when someone reads it later in time. Kindly read if you have 15-30 mins in hand. And yeah if you follow up the links and are not lazy, it is even longer.

Context (What?):

The groundswell on the internet about Net Neutrality in India primarily started with Facebook’s initiative to have certain sites free as part of internet.org (About , Wikipedia – detailed document of the issue). If you are in India and you go the website you see a response in Hindi (India’s national language) – which doesn’t work if you are not on a Reliance network. (I have a translated version here)

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 3.27.53 AMWhich seems very odd and unfair. Feels like it is a walled garden where the site is available only for certain India Internet users using the Reliance Network. Also do check out Wikipedia link on ‘Facebook Zero’ which aims at getting more users where people who are so called ‘poor’ or in other words not used internet before due to cost being an issue can use the internet for free. It offers a stripped down version of Facebook apart from essential sites that Facebook thought would be useful. Where even ‘photos’ on Facebook would be charged at a different or regular rate that the user falls or subscribes to.

I feel Airtel responded to this with an Airtel Zero Plan in order to compete with Reliance. The plan (unlike Facebook’s initiative) completely flipped the funnel and was a great idea which said if the business wants to pay us (Airtel) for the bandwidth – then it is free for the users of your business/site! Airtel had initially actually done – Wikipedia Zero project to access Wikipedia for free over SMS / USSD. The Airtel Zero plan was marketed as as follows :

  • Airtel launches ‘Airtel Zero’: A win-win platform for customers and marketers
  • Customers benefit: Customers enjoy free data access to a variety of mobile apps signed up with ‘Airtel Zero’Compelling marketing tool for marketers: App providers pay for customers’ data charges, thus giving customers toll-free access to their mobile application
  • For startups to enterprises: An open marketing platform that empowers companies ranging from small businesses to large conglomerates with an equal opportunity to reach out to customers in India
  • Spurs national agendas: Contributes to Government’s focus on Digital Inclusion and ‘Make in India’

Kindly note – the pitch is a very positive one saying it helps everyone! And helps the nation and giving access to specific sites for users on Airtel with the hope that people will switch due to this initiative and the perception that there is good intention at the end of it for Airtel to retain / get more users.

When Facebook Zero or internet.org or Wiki Zero were launched everyone was quite. However, Airtel Zero opened up the whole issue for debate.

This started a movement of protests from large number of online Indians protesting against such initiative. Some links that are for net neutrality that make sense and don’t make sense {I leave it to your judgement :- )} and my opinions in the sub bullet :

Enough of articles that created or support the movement.

Kindly note, I see the net neutrality debate in the US (Obama video, FCC 2015 proposal, Nytimes articles – 1,2 and 3) is different and is even more severe as to what is prevailing in India. Basically it comes down to the following according to my understanding (I totally agree to this if telcos are doing this) :

  • Blocking of sites is not right
  • Charging extra for certain sites either from the business or users is not okay
  • Giving variable bandwidth between services or sites should not be allowed
  • Even if there are competing services being provided by certain sites or services on the internet that the telco or service provider is engaged in, there should not be extra cost i.e a byte is a byte. This means Skype should not be differentiated if a telco is offering voice services.
  • Lack of transparency for the customers and under the table deals between certain companies

However, giving the users different plans according to internet speed is not part of the debate nor is giving only certain sites for free apart from the basic internet package. People also site Obama’s video and the new laws enacted by the FCC. Where the claim is internet has to be viewed as an essential good, like electricity or water. This is not the moot point in India’s current net neutrality debate.

My View about the debate in India currently

I am against the current net neutrality debate in India. People are jumping the gun saying giving certain sites for free if the business decide to pay bandwidth is not right. The basic claim is if we allow this or don’t protest now, we are allowing or giving leeway for possible doomsday scenario for the telcos sometime in future where they can discriminate between certain websites or businesses. Also, this will lead to new startups or internet / mobile companies not being able to compete in a unequal world and hence stopping the innovation culture. In simple words, the rich get richer! I see it as an incentive for business to use their websites and visit their website with no cost. They are not saying start-ups cannot get onto the platform.

Metaphorically from the real world cases : it is like Amazon or Flipkart saying “Free Delivery / Shipping”. Some sites can afford it and others cannot. We can then say transportation is a basic need and hence there should not be variable pricing between petrol / diesel. All cars or taxis should be charge at the same rate of bus tickets or train tickets in general or AC. Some people will say these metaphors don’t make sense but that is how I see it. There is a convenience charge and there is a business advantage. Let’s face it! However, in case of essentials goods, the rates are fixed by the government in India. The oil companies for instance. Most of them are public sector companies and the government keeps them alive. Best case being Indian government rescuing Air India. Which has been making losses for ages but my tax money is been sunk there without my approval with no hope to helping the sector!

Current scenario in India is not of discrimination. It is about certain companies paying money to the telcos so that users can get their content for free as they have figured our their business model to make money in other ways i.e. Ads or profitability due to scale. It is not about charging more for certain sites. Start-ups cannot afford that as they have not figured out how to make money. They will achieve scale in some time to make money. Plans like Airtel Zero provide an app store like advantage where they can be featured and there will be better visibility. However, search engines and word of word still exist to give them visibility  Net equality still remains, you can still access the ‘other’ sites at the same cost depending on your plan and the choice to speed (in this case 2G / 3G /4G or whatever Gs!)

My thoughts/understanding overall :

  • It is okay for telcos to offer certain sites for free if it is due to debatable ‘goodwill’ or businesses bearing the cost of the bandwidth business or government (say IRCTC and others) instead of users. Ultimately someone has to bear the cost?
  • Of course, users cannot demand that if a site is free on a certain telecom network due their policies then their network should also follow suit. They are welcome to choose/change their network and with mobile number portability in India there should not be any issue on phone numbers.
  • Some of the article that raised the question and primarily were thought leaders in the groundswell (1 million+ mails were sent to Government ultimately protesting against this!) They have viewed this with a very narrow lens. 1 million people mailing is primarily due to herd mentality. 1 million people who are intellectual and are economically well have sent the email and I don’t think they have bothered to send the mail after understanding the real debate. Couple of posts by influential people and they should be right – let us also join the wagon.
  • Current issue is of not blocking. (Kindly correct me if this is wrong)
  • Not charging extra for certain sites or throttling of bandwidth (I am not sure if this is being done). After all, telcos make more money if people are using more bandwidth. Telcos are making money as lot of people are using Youtube on 3G, helping them to charge more or provide packages with higher cost based on data download.
  • The main issues came up due to WhatsApp not Airtel Zero or Facebook Zero or internet.org! The new feature of free calling opens can of worms. They already killed the SMS or MMS business. Telcos and operators felt threat. Primarily due to superior technology (managing huge users efficiently).
  • Prime reason MMS didn’t take off between the telcos in the world as operators across the world did not come to agree that they will work out the pricing across the world. In fact they priced it too high. Even SMS – the actual cost of sending an SMS is almost close to zero in the telco network. Basically they were greedy and not innovative to understand lowering the cost will only help them. While I was working at Netcore around 2008, we got blocked from sending free SMS as the operators saw their monetization going down leading to lower ARPU. Media reports (Airtel, Vodafone and Rajesh‘s posts) – which violates the net neutrality point. There was no movement then as users felt it was not internet.
  • The governments are also to be blamed as the spectrum was sold at exorbitant charge and they promised the telcos they will have regulation to protect the telcos by giving them pricing and other advantages in terms of VOIP not being legal and having interconnect charges for SMS and Voice calls. Albeit throttling innovation in the telecom business.
  • They way I see it – government is the only party to be blamed. They got greedy under the pretext that it will help them in getting tax money which can be used to help the poor with subsidies or the political leaders making money!
  • They way I see telcos giving free internet for certain sites are in fact being innovative. Let the market dynamics decide who will win – are people going to move to other service providers due to rate differential or better quality of service or presence of service when one travels in India or abroad or unfair advantage that some sites are free on their network !?

Articles I would like to point out against the argument (just googled and I am happy to see them – media journalist who have put their views clearly and have not succumbed as most of media has done) :

However, I am disappointed on the comments by people to these posts that are leading the movement. They just doing +1 or simply saying telcos are assholes

What the government needs or could do to help everyone (I am yet to read the TRAI consultation paper – possibly next post I will give my opinion on that. Missed the deadline on 24th but who cares! At least I don’t) :

In fact, what people should be really concerned is what is in the news recently as of yesterday : Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone & Idea want WhatsApp, Viber, Skype under regulation. Basically they are asking and implying to their users –  you can’t have your cake and eat it too! It TRAI agrees – the entire movement goes bonkers. Well have to see if MODI delivers – abki baar aap ki sarkar … 🙂

Update :

  • I tried to fix the typos and have added some words or sentences in the post. However have not changed my stance.
  • Telecom operators warn of six-fold hike in data tariffs – the article makes sense. Telcos are building their cases on why the services like Skypes i.e. VOIP can be allowed on their network. However, I wonder how they came up with 6x number. Can some one say why 6x and not 10x or 100x?

Published by: vinu

My life - BREESY! :-) :D Beautiful Random Enjoyable Eventful Simple Yellow Places I have lived (chronological): (country) (- state) (-- city) India - (Orissa) -- Cuttack (2yrs) -- Bhubaneshwar (3yrs) - (Maharastra) -- Bombay/Mumbai (8 + 1 yrs) - (TamilNadu) -- Madras/Chennai (6 yrs) - (Pondicherry) (1 yr) United States - (California) -- Berkeley (3 yrs) Education : IIT Madras 02, UC Berkeley 05 Work Experience: Mechanical Engineer at FORD Motor Company, India; Management Trainee at Datamatics Technologies Ltd.; Wireless Programmer at TeleCommunication Systems Inc. Passions (currently as of Dec 2005): Family, Media (visual / audio), Mobile Systems, Internet, Design Interests: Music, Movies, Photography, Enjoying nature, Playing Violin, Graphics, Business / Entrepreneurship / Managments, Spirituality, Design, Technology, Mobile / Wireless

Categories biz, Blogosphere, future, india, internet, media, open source, openguru, random, technology, todayLeave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s