Net Neutrality, Airtel Zero and the Drama of cyber-activism

Alright. Before you guys jump ship and start hating me, let me make one thing clear. I SUPPORT NET NEUTRALITY.

Net-Neutrality-Image

Or. Most of it. I believe all content is equal and that if I have an internet connection at 8Mbps then everything I look for, I should get at 8Mbps. Flipkart and snapdeal. Netflix and Popcorn-time. But I DO NOT support the shit AIB and the rest of those TRP-lusting dramatics would lead you to believe.

Now, according to Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, who coined the term, the best way to explain network neutrality is as when designing a network: that a public information network will end up being most useful if all content, sites, and platforms are treated equally.

It does not, however, mean that you cannot charge for certain types of services or that you cannot ink an agreement wherein payment for services is received from one of either party using the network.

Now before we go on, let us look at what Internet.org is trying to achieve. While the economics and social impact of internet.org are too complex to explain or understand, the short version is that it is trying to bring the internet to everyone. Even those who cannot afford it at the moment. So basically, while you and I can afford the Rs. 250 pm that we spend on 3G, not all can. Now the question is, is it better to provide these people access to some part of the internet while temporarily barring them from having the choice of search engine? I would say yes. Anyone who cannot pay for a connection would say yes.

Why I believe Telecom companies should charge for OTT services

Here again the basic premise is Open Internet.  There are very few people who want to use all of the internet all of the time and have the resources to pay for it. Considering real life constraints, we should be trying to provide as much of the internet as possible to as many people as possible for the least costs possible.

Here about is the point where people would talk about how cheap internet is and how technology has been improving. That in no way decreases the huge capital costs that Telecom companies have to undergo in order to install and maintain this infrastructure and also to continually keep improving it. This wonderful article in the Mint covers a lot of it.

Let’s look at airtel’s revenue break- up:

Airtel-data-revenue-growth-in-9-quarters

Slightly old and blurry date but manageable. Anyway, notice how revenue from data forms a little less than half of mobile revenue. Now, this is revenue from data is predicted to grow to about 80% of total revenue. Why? Because customers are going to stop making voice calls and switch over to Skype and viber.

But why is that bad for the Telecos when their revenues will be going up?

Well, have u ever observed how your downloads speeds slow down when you are skyping? But the image is still blurry? and have you observed how the speed does not slow down to a proportionate amount when watching a blurry video on youtube? That’s because VOIP services such as Skype take up much more bandwidth – which reduces the performance of the network. So, when all of us start saving on voice calls and use viber and Skype instead, the telecom companies need to do a major re-haul of the infrastructure to continue maintaining service standards.

In order to pay for that, they will inevitably increase costs on data connections. Thereby rendering the internet out of reach for even more people. People who might not be using Skype and viber all the time.

Solution? Charge for Over-the-top services. Something like the southwest airlines of Internet connections.

Airtel Zero and how it might just prevent OTTS charges

Most people consider the internet to be a one sided transaction where the knowledge of the world mysteriously lands up. You want to search for the cheapest flight? You want to order food online? Netflix? None of the companies providing these services are Not-for-profits. All of them are businesses looking to make money and as with any other business decision, they gave thought before choosing the internet as their medium. In other words, none of these companies would have entered the internet if it did not have the large user base it currently does. And so, it makes sound business sense for them to ensure the expansion of this user base.

TwoSidedTitle-740

Like credit cards and any advertisement medium. Now so far, the internet’s user base namely – us, have been the only ones being charged whereas the customer base – the numerous businesses which operate through the internet haven’t been charged at all. Airtel Zero is trying to change that.

In order to tackle the inescapable rise in prices, and enable everyone to be on the internet, Airtel is trying to shift the responsibility of paying for the network services from the user to the customer. Opponents would say this destroys the level playing field of the internet. It could. But if this letter from Gopal VIttal is sticking to the truth, then it wouldn’t. It would of course give a leverage to companies with deep pockets, which is already present through – advertising, discounts, and so on.

If every company had the same business model with the same constraints and no points of parity, then there would be no need for the existence of more than one company in each category. If providing free access is the USP of flipkart, then snapdeal could provide lower prices to win over customers. But trying to kill the very idea in order to prevent the use of such leverage is highly dishonourable and not in the best interest of the customers and users.

In essence, while net neutrality is indeed a requirement and fighting for it is necessary, cyber activism twisting and turning the facts could destroy the OPEN INTERNET, which is far more important in a country like India where a large percentage of the population is yet to be exposed to high speed internet.

What are your thoughts?

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About TheKarthic

Job: Something in management. Not exactly sure why they pay me. Where: Mumbai. mostly in traffic tho. Interests: Music, movies and books. will be reviewing all three in highly eccentric spurts.
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