By Ashok Kumar
If TRAI does not ensure net neutrality for customers, ISPs and telecom providers will have the ability to pick and choose what consumers see online by slowing down other websites and apps. This means ISPs will start acting like content gatekeepers, limiting the content you access on your devices. This also implies that in such a scenario, consumers may even get charged more to get data they have limited access to. In short, if service providers are allowed to go ahead with differential pricing it would create a discrimination of sorts. This would certainly have a negative impact on the internet-led revolution that we are seeing today.
Net neutrality is crucial for businesses
The internet has been a key enabler of next generation businesses, providing a level playing field and allowing everyone to take equal advantage of the online platform. Net neutrality ensures that there is no discrimination between any two sites, there are no fast or slow lanes on the internet, and users don’t pay differently for accessing some websites. This kind of neutrality is extremely crucial for business growth, particularly in a country like India with such a large number start-ups and young entrepreneurs. Any violation of net neutrality can have a terrible impact on fair competition in the marketplace.
Neutral internet has given rise to many entrepreneurs in India. Most start-ups and enterprises are dependent on the internet for the success of their business. Recently, businesses have flourished and given way to new opportunities by finding their forte online. Companies that did not exist a few years ago are now valued in billions! Neutral internet is seen as an important factor by businesses – in ecommerce, real estate, media etc.
If we lose the war of net neutralist, an ISP can insist that you pay an additional fee in exchange for delivering your data faster, i.e. your app or website. This preferential treatment can give a huge advantage over smaller and now slower-moving competition. What if any customer refuses to pay that additional fee? The service provider can legally slow down access to their services, which can even be compared to blackmail. This will eventually result in monopoly.
On the other hand, encouraging fair competition means there will be more companies competing to give consumers a better product at a lower price- and this is the real win-win situation for both business owners and consumers.
The debate is gaining momentum At present, there are no laws to govern net neutrality in India, and there have been a few violations on this concept. The debate on network neutrality in India started in December 2014, after telecom service provider Airtel announced additional rates for making voice calls (VoIP) from its network using apps like WhatsApp, Skype, etc.
In March 2015, TRAI published a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over- the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. However, this document was criticized by most netizens for being indecipherable and one-sided. Recently, people started getting involved in the debate after Flipkart signed up for Airtel Zero platform. The service would have allowed companies like Flipkart to buy data and offer their apps to consumers for free on the operator’s network.
However, as a result of the ongoing debate, Flipkart decided to walk away from the service, and support the bigger cause of net neutrality. The company was smart enough to realize that it was critical to take such a stand in the larger interest of its long term brand image. In the process, a large number of people got educated about the implications of net neutrality. On 24 April 2015, TRAI announced it has received over a million emails demanding net neutrality.
Who will be the winner?
At this juncture, if India abandons its stand on net neutrality, discriminatory pricing would adversely affect the market, and business owners as well as users are likely to suffer. The regulators will have to find a common ground and achieve a common consensus across industries and the policy makers to safeguard the concept of net neutrality in India.
India needs net neutrality to grow and sustain the growth momentum it has achieved with the help of internet-enabled businesses. If service providers are given a free hand in deciding which websites are easily accessible and which ones are not, it will give an obvious advantage to larger players and online giants. This could be a major setback for young entrepreneurs and small businesses as they will have to face a tough fight from the more established companies.
There could also be a fall in the number of young entrepreneurs who are willing to come forward in such an adverse market scenario. Online giants will continue to thrive but smaller ones will perish which will lead to increased prices as a result of low competition. The vicious cycle will ultimately affect consumers and will in-turn affect our economy.
(The author is CEO and MD of RAH Infotech. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of Channel Times or any of the websites managed or operated by Trivone Digital Services)