“We need you to get out and, for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment my lovely trolls, turn on caps lock, and fly my pretties, fly, fly!”
– John Oliver
So said the messiah of the internet informed, urging them to comment on the FCC website when Net Neutrality in the USA was being considered. Net neutrality like most of the things internet users are passionate about, is little understood. In this lies no fault of your average user, it’s just that the subject matter’s density and the audience’s attention span are not compatible.
Recently the Telecom Regulation Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consulting paper on the core points of network neutrality in India. It wasn’t called as such but it outlines the same points which made news in the United States, a few months back. This paper talks about certain issues deemed new to the sphere of communication in the nation. The focus is on OTT (Over the top) services which comprise of VoIP communication, social media and media streaming via the internet. The contention is that the ballooning use of these services as a result of the growing number of cheap smartphones in the market needs telecommunication regulations to change drastically. The changes suggested are not so much in the laws themselves but more in the way services should be offered and billed by your TSP (Telecom service provider)
The report on a cursory read comes through as more opinion driven than statistically backed. One can’t presume a desire to ensure readability given the document is more than a 100 pages long. So the exclusion of facts and statistics especially in the Indian context hints at the degree of awareness which the drafters seem to possess or agree to commit to possessing. The idea of charging more for certain internet based operations on the basis of their popularity sounds ludicrous (even though a supply demand argument is to be made). Given the knowledge that charges are driven by data rates, the assumption would be that data intensive practices would be welcome. What one must however consider is the potential loss in traditional business services to telecom providers due to VoIP calls and messaging services like WhatsApp. Any free market loving economist will tell you that such a move if is driven by consumer opinion cannot be curtailed. Any attempt to do so would be to recognize a lack of faith in the market system. We are moving towards a more internet enabled age and embracing that as a welcome inevitability would be wise.
For decades we tried in India to get as many as possible people on the blower. STD and PCO boxes could be found on every nook and cranny. We made slow painful progress as Indians everywhere began to digest the telephone as a necessity. In came the mobile phone and within a fraction of the time it took for us to like the landline we fell in love with cellular. More than 800 million people today are mobile in India. About 20% (as per the report itself) have access to mobile internet. 2G is still the dominant player in the data market but 3G has long since arrived with metros embracing 4G. The mobile internet is fast becoming a part of the middle class Indian dream. Filtering it, restricting it or trying to control it as a result of lobbying by a cash rich industry is unhealthy. The report is an interesting read for it brings to attention issues about security in online communication and the regulator’s inability to cope with them. It calls to notice the illegality of internet voice communications under the Indian telegraph act of 1885. (For those who are amused by the age of the act, most of our laws today are inherited.) It also compares international solutions to this problem(the existence of which is highly debated).
Whether it be Uber and its conflict with the Taxi code in India or these moot points raised in weak defense by TSPs to suggest the uprooting of net neutrality. Our responses shall be the measure of how seriously we take our nation’s legislation. Our political system has long since started becoming irrelevant, but if our legislation takes the same route we may face threats greater than national headlines being jokes. Support the cause after thoroughly understanding it, after seeing what are the answers you send when you press the submit button on SaveTheInternet . If your gut feeling is to share the issue just to be part of the tide, evaluate why you do you even need the net to be neutral if its only purpose is to fuel your vanity.