NET NEUTRALITY

Net neutrality is the “it” word these days . Every one from TV anchors to laymen on Facebook opposes it with all their strength  , ironically just a few of these protestors know what the real issue is . To understand it better let us start with the basic definition

Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

Next we have to understand its relevance in the Indian context . It is here that most people get confused , especially over a proposal made by airtel and Vodafone in 2014 and the current issue (2015) .

The 2014 saga

The problem came to the fore when millions of Indians started switching to smartphones and using whatsapp and Facebook for personal communication dumping the SMS function being provided by the mobile operators . Like many archaic rules we have ,  TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)  has classified SMSes with voice calls as “basic” services which could be charged by the provider while the internet services were clubbed as over the top services (OTT) which could not be charged individually but as a bulk package (data connection). SMSes were a major sources of income for the mobile operators , this being taken over by OTT services , they wanted to get their fair share of the deal . Hence airtel came up with the plan for charging these services independently , which if implemented would have made the subscriber subscribe independently to apps like Facebook and whatsapp. Owing to public backlash and slight amount of government intervention this never took off and was put to rest in December 2014.

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Airtel Zero and Internet.Org

In February 2015 Reliance Communications partnered with Facebook to launch its affordable internet project called Internet.org in India. The aim as was propounded by the operator  was to increase the internet penetration in India , making it more accessible to the millions of poor who are apparently offline. Here is where the neutrality question which is being discussed today started . The internet.org only provides those services that it likes and the customer have no voice in that respect . To be on the bonquet being provided the apps must pay a particular sum to Facebook and the operator . Many including Times of India did get on board , wanting to cash in on the untapped market that is rural India . But this initiative is against the very definition of net neutrality , where all the content on internet whether it be this blog or a giant like Facebook is to be treated alike . The scenario became even more tense when airtel launched its own version of Internet.org called Airtel Zero in April forcing people to raise their voices against this uneven treatment.

The opponents of these monopolistic tendencies are right in demanding neutrality  , but what they forget is the fact that internet today is light years away from true neutrality.  It still is Google who decides how pages are to be arranged whenever a search is initiated and the government , being the Big Brother  who monitors each and every one of our movements online . Hence , Let us hope this movement doesn’t loose its steam and truly revolutionize the web.

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