Friday, 17 July 2015

Towards a More Transperant Internet with Net Neutrality

The Good Thing That Happened:

I am actually very happy that all this storm has brewed up in India regarding Net Neutrality, as it signifies that now a days consumers are more aware of their rights to information access, and what is legal coertion and manipulation.

Net Neutrality is NOT something new to me. I remember during 2007-2010 a big storm brewed up in USA. Telecom companies in US were planning to slow down non member sites and speed up sites which were in agreement with them. A movement was organised and millions of Internet users wrote to their respective Senators and finally certain Federal Regulatory bills were passed upholding Net Neutrality. Infact, one of Barack Obama's main campaign pointer was upholding Net Neutrality back then. And he did ensrose it.

Then almost after a decade, it was turn for consumers rising up in India, in 2015. It happened cause Indian Telcoes were giving access to sites for free who were in agreement with them. They were also planning to charge for using messaging services like Whatsapp, as users migrated to Whatsapp chucking expensive old school SMS. Texting used to be a substantial pie of revenue for the Telcos and used to go very heavy on the consumers' pocket. As the consumer shifted the Telcos decided to forecefully add additional charges for consumers to use messaging services like Whatsapp.

This created a storm naturally and Indian Government stepped into the picture and said its supports Net Neutrality. It had to, as majority of the voters wanted Free and Fair Internet Acesses, so how can an elected Government not listen to its voters?

They then formed an Telecom Panel led by A. K. Bhargava to evaluate Net Neutrality and suggest recommendations for regulatory changes.
The Telecom Panel did uphold Net Neutrality and suggested that Net Neutrality should be incorporated in the Telecom Act and Telcos can't charge users for using Third Party Messaging Apps. The Panel also said the Telcos can't act as Gatekeepers for Internet Acess and all should have equal right to passage of visitors. This is terrific, and this is needed... As Telcos can't hold consumers hostage and extort money from them by unscrupious ways.

The Telecom Panel is one thing and TRAI is another thing altogether. TRAI or Telecom Regulatory Authority of India floats on money provided to them via licensing fees that Telcos provide. I am sure that everyone remembers the huge 3G scam that rocked India some years back which was based on allocation of bandwidth and usage rights to Telcos. So TRAI, many of Net Neutrality Advocates look at that organisation as official spokesperson of the Telcos. But fortunately Indian Parliamentarians supported Net Neutrality.

Coming back to the report by this Telecom Panel led by A. K. Bhargava.. Some points they have suggested are bright and right and are commendable. But some points are not... Let's examine one that I feel is very objectionable.

The Bad Thing That Happened:

The Panel suggests that VOIP inside India for National calls should be regulated and can be charged by Telcos, where as International VOIP calls should not be regulated as traditional calling costs are very high in the International space. Over that they stated, they are recommending this measure as Telcos had to pay huge licencing fees to Telecom Authorities (Guess Who), and courtesy this they can't compete with VOIP providers when it comes to price. So by that logic its giving rise to unfair competition. Some might feel it's logical but I have few things to say here.

Hanging on to Old School Technologies and Ways of Communication:

First Question: Can International calls be made PC to PC and Phone to Phone paying Data charges only?

Answer: Yes

Second Question: Are Consumers Adopting VOIP?

Answer: Yes, very much.

That means now Technology exists to make calls for free. Now, not letting it prosper keeping pockets of Telcos in mind is like pushing Old School Technology over New Age Technology. It's like saying, we will over tax Plane travel and try to curtail it, as its hurting pocket of Railways... Irrespective of progress it can bring to our lives. That is, forcing Old Tech over New Tech for the sake of few selective pockets.

The Pannel also made some passing refferences that compared to regular Telephone calls the VOIP call quality are of substandard nature. Yeah, it is true but why not let the consumers decide whether they want to make a free substandard call via VOIP or paid premium Telephone call. As the technology exists let the customer choose. Am sure people will opt for premium quality when needed. Why tax an innovation to fill some pockets?

This kind of one sided approach also prevents new innovations in the VOIP space. This will prevent Indian Startups exploring the VOIP option if they have to pay huge license fees to make TRAI richer than it is already. So this logic is like you have to stick to old ways as its hurting Telcos, you can't progress with time and you can't adopt newer means of communication as certain corporates gain from it. So this logic I find very skewed and not at all consumer friendly.

Towards a more Free and Fair Competition:

It's better instead to focus on what benefits Internet is bringing to the world, and not exactly judge the situation by the fact, that some Corporates are getting hurt by New Tech innovations. One has to adapt to newer ways of life and communication, instead of crying like babies when a chocolate is taken away from the mouth. A matured way out of it will be to adapt to changing circumstances.

At the end of the day what is needed? Coming down hard on Monopolistic practices and promote Free and Fair competition keeping space for future innovation. For all we known newer models of communication will come out in next decade, idea is to embrace it and not fight it with all might.

Who Owns the Internet?

A good question actually arises here, who owns the Internet? Internet is inter network of computers and servers which I and You have put up along with others... billions of users and thousands of companies. The Telcos just provide the pipeline so that me and you can connect and exchange data. So without owning the Internet, the Telcos are in a position to gag you and me who are the acrtual owners. But stopping you and me and people like us to communicate and share content freely is like killing the Internet. No one owns the Internet and we all own individual parts of it and its a trade that is happening that way. So they can't try to force things on us or gag us or ask for charges which are unfair as we are already paying for Data access. We are paying for it.

Changing Business Models as Per Need of Time:

It is high time, Telcos adapt to the changing scenario, without going to war with its own consumers from whom they take money for using their services. It is also to be noted that Telcos themselves use free VOIP. The Land Line phones that come with the Broadband they do give Free Unlimited calling facilities under some plans. So they themselves are doing it and at the same time screaming against VOIP providers.

Working Towards a Win Win Scenario:

What is needed in India is create a win win scenario for both the users of the Internet and the service providers. What ever we do or decide should not be overtly skwed in one direction. Internet users and Telcos need each other, so we must work towards a win win scenario together. If needed lets form Telecom Consumer Bodies and have meets with Regulators and Telcos and create a win win situation for all.

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