Being a professional couch potato and spending most of my time on the Internet, I was offended when I realized I was woefully uninformed on the war being waged on net neutrality. Since I am a part of the generation that grew up with a computer, I spent my days with my fingers crossed hoping that those nostalgic robotic noises of our dial-up Internet would bring me connectivity. And cursing the landline when it didn’t.
The one thing I took for granted though, was the Internet itself. The fact that my (and your) internet service provider let you access all content at the same speed as everyone else is not something I considered a privilege, but a right. Until now.
Now to explain the issue, I should probably begin by saying that we DO in fact, pay to use the Internet, but after we pay for a certain amount of data at a certain speed, we can do whatever we like with it. That is, your service provider will not discriminate Internet speeds or data allowance you’ve paid for, no matter what you’re doing on the internet. This could range from marathon-ing all 10 seasons of FRIENDS to doing research for your next academic paper (sure you are).
So telecom companies have realised that services like Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, etc., use the Internet to provide their services to us, and are in turn earning money. In other words, these are known as Over The Top services (OTT). These telecom companies want to have a cut of their revenue, which they think they have a right to, and they have duly informed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India of their grievances. If you’ve been following up till now, you’ve probably realised that this makes absolutely no sense. We pay for the internet already to use these apps, and telecom companies are therefore seeking to make some sort of double profit by striking deals with these said apps, so that (hypothetically) Company A can provide, say, WhatsApp, at faster speeds than other companies, or at a zero rating policy, thereby making Whatsapp a sort of rite of passage for those users, since we’d have to pay extra to use any other messaging service at the same speed as WhatsApp, or we’d be at a disadvantage if Whatsapp costs less and we decide to use something else. And while Whatsapp is my preferred messaging medium, I’d like to have the choice, thank you very much. I thought we were way past Orwellian universes and authoritarian control over all our choices.
Something that really makes the Internet unique is how it’s an equal playing field. E-commerce, small entrepreneurs, small-scale businesses are all given a chance at the wide variety of consumers. It’s completely illogical to take parts of it and monopolise and monetise it. Because frankly, telecom companies didn’t invent the Internet. To quote my favorite entrepreneur/video blogger/musician Hank Green, great economies aren’t made by profit, they are made by competition. And while certain companies can provide some apps free of cost and compare it to a toll free number, they fail to realise that they are network providers and the Internet is not their business model. ‘Internet.org’ and other services of its kind may be noble in their intention to provide free internet access to everybody through these platforms, but it is however wrong to influence consumer decisions by large, wealthy corporations picking and choosing the apps we use.
In the light of social media backlash, many of these corporations are pulling out of these deals and embracing the Net Neutrality campaign. I only wish it wasn’t social media backlash that made them do it, but their own foresight about the state of the Internet. The Internet is a massive economic, social, and technological force that is to be used only for GOOD, and is the great leveler of our times.