Net Neutrality : Towards a Co-regulatory solution

Net neutrality for most of us is like a significant advance in particle physics. We know that it shall affect us in the time to come but our understanding of it is very limited. So is often the motivation to further this understanding.

The title of this post is that of a book by Christopher Marsden  published in 2010. When choosing to learn more about anything to do with the internet it is of course best to read about it on the, internet. However the pitfalls of boundary less reading online being well known a good book often comes in handy. From my point of view it made little sense to read this book given a general disinterest in regulation, but then in the spirit of learning something new I indulged.

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A Net Neutral India

“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.

Climatic Indifference

If doctors were to treat patients like we treat global warming, the demand for ventilators would sky rocket.

It is one of the most uncoolest of topics to discuss and even write upon. If you search for the words Global Warming one of the first result is Global Warming Essay hinting that this very relevant topic now shares classroom space with terms like Brain Drain and What would I do if I was a millionaire. It is impossible to be unaware of climatic change, the last decade has seen weather events unlike any other.While these may not be assumed to be directly influenced by the melting polar caps, the polar vortex and multiple hurricanes hint at a changing landscape.

      It is not very difficult to see why anyone would deny climatic change and especially those in power. The majority of governments in the world today are elected. Their tenures limited and determined roughly by their ability to deliver progress to their citizens. A climatic conscience thus is the last thing a nation hungering for development wants on its already full platter of problems. If one is to look at any of the recent climate control international treaties and policies none mention a definite reduction in emissions. Trade offs, letting lower emitting countries taking the burden of more industrial nations and deferring responsibility is the tune to which each nation is dancing. Whether or not the impact of human activity on this Earth is as pronounced as claimed by scientists, the direction this planet’s surface is taking is easy to agree upon. There are ice sheets loosing as much as 27 feet a year, their areas are the size of large cities. A look at any image from such melting glacial regions reveals not a white reflecting surface but one covered with soot making the ice more receptive to heat absorption.

Why are we not bothered about this? Why is this not part of the ceaseless discourse that the television and media inflict us with? For developing countries like ours it would take a gigantic amount of energy investment to meet basic infrastructural needs, our unrestricted population growth has insured that. In India nearly half of the population has no or extremely inadequate access to electricity. Any form of progress shall demand the correction of this and that must obviously have a carbon cost associated with it which perhaps the World can’t afford. Europe, parts of Asia and the America’s having had their industrial revolutions and carbon binges still continue to fill the atmosphere with the by products of their prosperity. So to nations like ours the need to pollute is seen as the right to develop. India has one of the largest coal reserves and the second largest population, the math is obvious. The world may need to come together sooner or later to address the ballooning problem, shall then we come to a per-capita solution? Shall it take into account the improvement of the life of the impoverished or focus on the sustenance of the life style of the rich? Equality is after all as much a myth as climate change is a reality. This government of ours must address these concerns even if they are not voiced by the electorate. But a yagna is more likely than actionable plans for saving the Earth.

The Preoccupation with Hong Kong

The best history is one which unfolds in front of you.

The last 5 years have been filled with incidents of civil unrest, mass protests and the use of means of discontent expression which have not been so actively used perhaps since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Never before in the last 20-25 years people come together to clean up their respective countries and governments whether it be in Tunisia, Yemen,Egypt, Ukraine or now Hong Kong. The internationalization of domestic troubles by the foot soldiers of  democracy, the common people on social media, that is what some believe to be the drivers of this. While others propose that Social Media is agog with these civil and not so civil disruptions because of a tendency of such content to be viral rather than the medium it self being a channel for spreading the discontent. That is to say there is little influence but great homophilly in the #OccupyCentral.

Whether or not that is true, Hong Kong joined the ranks of democracy seekers this monsoon. China’s window into capitalism, Hong Kong has always been a weird animal, torn between two ideologies. The inhabitants are more modern (arguably) and thus by any philosopher’s definition, ripe for choosing their own direction than agreeing to be compliant. When the re election of the area’s Chief Executive came into spotlight, the people led by a few academics demanded the candidates from which they were to choose be selected not by China but by the people. To any dweller in a democracy, the demand seems rational enough. If any elections are meant to be truly representative, the candidates can’t be pre-selected. The displeasure of the mainland being apparent at this the professors took to the streets. Joining them were the slightly more radical Hong Kong Federation of Students & Scholarism. Waves of discontent worldwide in recent times have been led by students and youngsters possibly because of their refusal to accept a system which hasn’t worked for their parents, increased awareness of world politics or a natural immunization to indoctrination via what is inevitably a western influenced education.

An anti-protester (L) shouts at pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong on October 3, 2014. Source : Time.
An anti-protester (L) shouts at pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong. Source : TIme

While we in our democracies were embroiled in the tough task of career selection at the age of 17-18, here the boys and girls have gone a step further into future determination of their nation. The courage is undeniable but everything else is under a shadow. If there be a purely representative head of  governance, how effectively would he be allowed to govern? Given the expressed discontent of commerce groups at the people’s attempt to peacefully determine their future, how likely is Hong Kong to succeed commercially given a shift in political systems? While a complete disassociation from China seems out of the question, the presence of these two such opposing schools of thought in one nation, is it even possible? These questions don’t seem to be raised often enough. With the passing of October, the leading lights of the protest movement have returned to their teaching roles. While the expression of communal discontent generated a lot of media vibe, never has a mass protest been so riddled with camera flashes, what did it achieve? The organized referendums to gauge public sentiment were definitely eye opening as to the people’s efficiency in organizing themselves and mining public opinion.

To someone who has lived life long in a democratic government there is little possibility of not having a skewed view of the situation. After all our elected representatives have failed us more often than not. While on the other hand there is freedom of expression. If you randomly select 4 people from a crowd they are equally likely to be as good or bad at governance as those which were to be elected by that crowd. This is probably not true for small homogeneous numbers. But it seems more plausible for large masses with varied cultural, financial and educational backgrounds. In democracies, the leaders are not the brightest, not the strongest and not the best for the job but their popularity eclipses their shortcomings, making their failures the fault of their electors as much as their own.

So perhaps what the people of Hong Kong and of other government disillusioned parts of the world want is a chance to make their own mistakes.

Read More

BBC : Why is Hong Kong protesting?

Wikipedia : Occupy Central with Love and Peace

Twitter : #OccupyCentral

Wikipedia : The Umbrella Movement