There is discrimination in a theatre in the seating arrangements. Those who pay more fill the front rows and the rest take the back seats (in reverse in cinema halls). This is purely economy based; on affordability. This will exist eternally with us. But, here we get to choose where we sit. The ultimate decision making authority is the viewer (in this case).
For a few weeks now, we get to hear a lot about ‘Net Neutrality’. The voices keep raising and getting bolder and louder in favour of it. This piece of writing aims at introducing briefly what net neutrality actually mean. A Simple intro for dummies, kind of.
Internet which started as a pilot project back in late 1960s has taken the world by storm. Now the internet has possibilities which we wouldn’t have even ever imagined. It has opened avenues not just for knowledge sharing and socializing but for many other possibilities which could never be realized otherwise. In the past couple of decades internet has changed our ways of life altogether.
The user avails the internet services via the ISP (Internet Service Provider). The ISP provides access to all the websites, with speeds of our choices. Like the theatre there are varying tracks in the internet access which is characterized by its speed. The more we pay the speedier our data transfer rate become. The ultimate choice of the speed is completely at the disposal of the user. Besides the users also enjoys the freedom of switching from one broadband speed to another at will, whenever they want. In brief, net world is absolutely democratic in providing access to all the websites and services till date.
Net neutrality calls for equal treatment of the internet data by the internet service providers and the government, without discrimination of any kind and charging equally for the services, thereby ensuring the democracy of usage among users. All platforms, data and services are to be treated equally in the webverse. The concern for net neutrality rose high when it came to light that ISPs (Comsat is a better example internationally) deliberately slowed down the speeds of certain sites, breaching the neutrality. The internet loses its equality here, and the ISP becomes the authority of deciding what the user accesses. The chances for individuals, organizations or companies no more could be equal chances to establish their ideas and find audience for them.
In the Indian scenario, the debate on net neutrality kick started when the major market player Airtel announced its plans to charge for Skype usage, which remains as a third party application. This invited raging opposition from the users, forcing the ISP to pull back from its plan. The opposition grew even stronger demanding neutrality when the same company rolled another plan titled ‘Airtel Zero’. The content providers may join the plan, and the users who access the members’ websites and services can grab it free of charge, with zero charge for the data usage. The user end has it free because in this plan, not the user but the content providers will pay to Airtel.
This might sound great at the first look with user thinking of net access literally free of cost, partly at least. Airtel focuses on this PoV reiterating that it’s plan will enable more people reach to the internet. But a coin has always two sides. But online activists fear that in the future such ventures may take a u-turn morphing into monopoly taking the authority of what the surfers have to see and what not in their hands.
Besides corporate and dot com giants who are capacious to pay more will have their contents and services delivered to more people than fellow content providers creating inequity in the web world. By time this will create a milieu where the ISP can decide and control the data flow and there by controlling and regulating the users access to the web contents. Some sites load faster than the other, this over time pushes the users to shy away from the slower sites. The ultimate power of the internet lies in its transparency and equity and this foundation will get corroded if we let such strategic moves, just for the sake of short term personal benefits.
More or less the Facebook, Reliance joint venture (in India) ‘Internet.org’ has attracted mixed responses from digital activists. Founder and CEO of FB Mark Zuckerberg has said net neutrality and connectivity can co-exist. In his wall he wrote, “Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people to get connected…. To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some services for free. If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.”
This sounds redeeming at first. Yet the context could be viewed in an altogether different dimension. It’s good to get something for free than nothing at all. But if, what that ‘something’ is decided by the service provider and not by the end user it’s better to stay disconnected. This in future would prove a primary tool of social engineering to design what the public should know and either the governments or any private monopoly might lay their hands on it.
#Save the internet