Points of View: How crucial is Net Neutrality?

By Devesh Gupta , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | April 16, 2015
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The 'Save the Internet' campaign has caught social media by storm and people are putting up a fight in favour of maintaining net neutrality. afaqs! spoke to several industry players to understand what their views on the subject are.

At present, the online platform is exploding with articles, op-eds, tweets, videos and blogs around the issue of net neutrality. Netizens, including influential people, are voicing their opinions and concerns about the perils of compromising on net neutrality.

In simple words, net neutrality means same speed for all websites.

The debate sparked off with telecom major Bharti Airtel announcing 'Airtel Zero', subscribing to which consumers will get to access a set of websites and apps for free, while for the others there will be a specific data plan. This would entail a big blow to small companies and start-ups which cannot afford to sign up for such plans.

Points of View: How crucial is Net Neutrality?

Telecom operators have been lobbying hard with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to allow them to block apps and websites which will only be available at a higher price.

With net neutrality in place, the service providers do not interfere with the data that flows through its servers.

TRAI has conveniently uploaded a consultation paper with 20 questions spread across 118 pages on its website on March 27, and invited people to send their comments against the same by an e-mail by April 24.

In a bid to put up a fight against telecom lobbying crushing free internet, a nationwide campaign titled 'Save The Internet' kicked in, urging people to send a legally precise comment to TRAI maintaining net neutrality.

Over four lakh people have lent their support already to the issue.

A host of public figures have come out in support of maintaining the internet as a free space for consumers including Bollywood celebrities, politicians, corporates, NGOs and others.

All India Bakchod, a content creator, has launched a video explaining what net neutrality is and why one must make enough noise about it and save the internet.

afaqs! spoke to several industry stakeholders to understand their views on the subject.

Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, chairman Posterscope and psLive - Asia Pacific

Ashish Bhasin

AJ Christopher

I do not think that there should be any constraints on the internet. But, on the other hand, something which makes commercial sense for consumers as well as the service providers can be looked at from a case to case basis. But, in general, neutrality of the internet should be maintained. More than the online publishers and advertisers, it will affect the people who want to put up apps like a Flipkart or a Snapdeal. Also, the service providers will be affected because it's a potential revenue stream for them.

AJ Christopher, national head, marketing, Eenadu Newspaper

To put in one word, it is all about the democracy of the internet. The medium has to be democratic because it has brought the world much closer. The consumer should be given freedom and flexibility of choice to pick and choose, and it should not be governed by one single person who has got the money to influence the buying decision process. Today, Google and many other players have made it big, but it is on the back of the internet being free. And now, suddenly, all the biggies feel that they have all the money to buy the bandwidth, but what will happen to smaller players and the start-up guys. Even Google and others were a start-up a few years back. India is a hub for start-ups and for other innovative products, thanks to this platform, which makes the investment cost extremely nominal.

Broadband and mobile are growing especially in the rural areas, and if one puts roadblocks in it, what would happen? In the non metros, there is no 3G, but only 2G, or even less, so what would happen if one controls the speed there, it will affect the consumerism which is beginning to grow from there.

Telecom operators might speak about them being hit as they pay a huge price to get the spectrum and they need to monetise, but that is not the ultimate way because more and more applications keep on coming up and people will continue trying them.

Telecom companies may feel that the users are getting these apps for free, but the user is paying for them, but why influence the user to let him use a certain app and not another one.

From a media perspective, I or my competition does breaking news, but it is the user that matters. If the competition does not have the capacity to buy this bandwidth, probably we are denying the consumer something. And content should be made available to everyone.

Manav Sethi, group CMO,

Manav Sethi

Alok Bansal

Pratik Gupta

Internet is an essential service and should be provided without any discrimination. We realise that zero rating platforms can seriously affect the freedom and growth of billions of entrepreneurs, quite against the 'Make in India' and 'Digital India' vision of our government.

It's the government's responsibility to ensure a level playing field for home-grown entrepreneurs and, at the same time, protect the interests of netizens. Net neutrality is important and it's only ironical to hear that telecom operators of the same country purportedly favouring a regime that has differential pricing and treatment to bits that carry internet data.

We strongly feel that any violation of internet neutrality can have a serious bearing on effective and fair competition in the market place.

Alok Bansal, CFO and co-founder,

We, as a company, are in principle against any regulation that restricts customer choice and freedom. Customer at all times should have a choice to decide what to do with their time and investment on internet. Any third party should not restrict this choice by preferential pricing or connectivity on their own.

Pratik Gupta, co-founder, director, new business and innovation, FoxyMoron

I think the subject should be debated. They are trying to put restrictions on what internet is. It is a singular piece and people are trying to cut in smaller pieces.

While on the one side people are paying for the internet, there are a set of people who are lobbying hard to get the internet for free. The latter are saying that it is no longer a luxury and it should be a natural right and not something that one should obtain as it breaks down the barriers.

Internet should be a place which should be free, and I can comment on it. It is one place where there is real democracy and people are trying to make it communist from the way I look at it.

As a digital agency, we first were setting it up by explaining to clients what the digital ecosystem actually meant. Now, we come to a stage where we have already explained them what it is.

While we have progressed, if net neutrality has not set in, there will be questions such as, if 100 million people access YouTube earlier, now tell me how many people have paid to access it? So, the 100 million figure does not work, as only five million are paying for it. Then, they will question whether consumers use FB more or YouTube more, which kills the democracy of the internet.

Gyan Gupta, COO, Dainik Bhaskar Digital

There have been a few occasions in the past when net neutrality should have been discussed, but hardly any noise was made. I am in for a level playing field.

Gyan Gupta

Anuradha Sen Gupta

Sameer Pitalwalla

I am not very sure what this entire issue is all about, Airtel has its own business plans, but I think that an access to a particular portal will be on the basis of the merit of the portal to a consumer, rather how much money the consumer will save on it.

We are expecting a consumer to buy a high-value product, but I am not sure whether the choice of spending money on that product by visiting a particular portal will be affected because a consumer has free access or a paid access to it.

We are asking the consumer to spend large money on m-commerce, e-commerce, content (which is his daily need), which I do not think he would compromise on because something is free. In my opinion, the choice of the consumer will totally depend on the merit of the website and the content far outweighs anything that is given free. There are portals that charge for delivery and customers happily pay them because they have products none other have. The differential pricing applies for everything and it will always exist, but I believe that the subject needs a stronger debate.

Anuradha Sen Gupta, editor and executive producer, BOOM

The internet is easily the most potent invention since electricity. It allows for a more equal society, one that can smash the barriers imposed by race, gender, age, caste and class. The attempt by telecom companies, internet businesses and the government to make internet access discretionary will alter its essence. It will disempower people and curtail the freedom of choice. As an independent media start-up, BOOM has benefitted from and is committed to net neutrality. The on- going campaign for net neutrality exemplifies the collaborative power and impact of the internet. If you don't want that to lose that power, take a stand to save the internet now.

Sameer Pitalwalla, CEO, Culture Machine

The founding fathers of the internet built it on the premise that all bits and bytes are equal. Information wants to be free, and the internet gave it its wings. Anything that causes these bits and bytes to be unequal will stifle innovation and limit the capabilities of this incredible platform and its strength.

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