I’m one of the early birds, I’ve had an internet connection since 1998. A 64kbps dialup modem connected to a machine running Windows 98, running an application to call up a number provided by MTNL, to access the world wide web. Disney.com was the first site I ever accessed, and our connection was disrupted when the landline rang.
Cut to 2015. Everyone I want to be in touch with is a Whatsapp text away, I can Skype call my friend in San Francisco and hear him talk about the start up scene in the Bay Area using 3G on my phone at a small town in India. If need be, I can use Google Hangouts to talk to my uncle in London because he doesnt like Skype. Disney? Heck no, reddit is where the internet’s at now.
We have come a long way, the speeds have changed, more people are finally online, but the essence of the internet has remained the same since 1998.
At least it has, until now.
The crux of using the internet lies in the fact that all data is treated equally. The cables carrying information from your PC, requesting access to the web, do not care whether you’re browsing YouTube, Disney, streaming Pandora or reading Mint’s online paper; all requests to access the internet are given the same treatment and are given whichever speed the cable is capable of providing.
That is, your internet provider is neutral. There is no favouritism. Regardless of which website you’re accessing, your provider is obligated to provide the speed you’re paying for. Why?
Because you’re paying for your bandwidth. You’re already paying whatever the mandated amount is for 3GB, 5GB or 100 GB per month. How you utilize that bandwidth is completely up to you, whether you squander the whole thing watching cats play with dogs over YouTube, or sharing Buzzfeed posts on Facebook. It doesnt matter, you get to decide how to use the bandwidth you’re paying for. Not your mom, not Airtel, not Reliance. You (unless your mother is overbearing, sorry about that).
At least till now. Telecom Service Providers (TSPs, for short) in this country want to change that.
Suddenly your internet is acting terribly slow. You hit refresh on Gmail a million times. Then, a message pops up.
Having trouble opening your email? Pay us Rs 300 right now, and you can access it with no problem!
You pay up, and you can finally reread your draft that you were planning to send to your ex again. Smoothly. Weird.
You’re done with work now, you want to slack off a bit, probably browse a through a few albums of cat memes on Imgur. Your internet starts acting up again for a few minutes, then another message pops open.
Unable to load cat gifs? Sorry, Imgur increases server load on our side.
Tell you what: pay up 300 bucks, and you can browse as many photos of cats as you like, no questions asked.
You’re a sucker, so you pay up again. What the hell just happened? Why is your TSP asking you for money every time you access the internet now?
Surely you can outrage about this on Twitter. You’ve paid 600 bucks already. Oh wait, another pop up.
You cant bitch about us on social media till you pay up again already. Access to Twitter and Facebook is banned until then on our servers.
This is an Italian-mafia style shakedown. And your TSP? They’re the mob bosses, because they own the cables that connect your PC to the internet.
This is what TSPs in India want to do now. Instead of providing their service and charging only for bandwidth (which is how its supposed to work), they want to dictate how fast you can access parts of the web based on their choosing. They dont want to treat all data equally, ergo, they want to violate net neutrality.
When you pay your monthly cost for internet, you’re paying for the right to use that bandwidth however YOU want. Your TSP is not allowed to dictate which sites are you allowed to access.
Airtel recently tried to blatantly violate net neutrality by charging their customers for using Skype on their 3G network.
“All Internet/data packs or plans (through which customer can avail discounted rate) shall only be valid for Internet browsing and will exclude VoIP (both incoming/ outgoing). VoIP over data connectivity would be charged at standard data rates of Rs.0.04/10KB (3G service) and Rs. 0.10/10KB (2G service)”
Why did they do this? Because Skype and Viber are eating into their calling revenues. And rightly so, since network coverage for any provider in India is absolutely terrible. Naturally, as a consumer, our instinct is to find a decent solution for communication that’s inexpensive. Skype and Viber (also called VoIP or ‘voice over internet protocol’ services) fit the bill.
This was a gross violation of net neutrality. Airtel has no right to charge exclusively for using certain services on the internet, considering we’re ALREADY paying a monthly fee for bandwidth.
They did quickly backtrack on their proposal, after much outrage on social media. But only for now. Instead of acknowledging that they were wrong, they’ve cleverly sought the opinion of TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, our mobile service provider watchdog) on ‘differential pricing of internet services’, as they’d put it.
This isnt differential pricing.
This is not like paying for a TV channel that you want to watch, it is FAR from it.
Having complete access to all the goodness of the internet is your right, and your ISP is obligated to provide that.
They should NOT be allowed to charge extra when you decide to use the internet in a way they dont like.
Not just Airtel, but other TSPs want to desperately start charging subscribers for using Whatsapp and Skype purely because it is eating into their so-called profit margin.
They arent, in fact Airtel recorded a massive profit this quarter. (Read the full article here Warning: it does get a bit technical).
Now here’s the kicker. Apparently, despite all the lobbying ISPs are putting in to force TRAI to allow them to violate net neutrality, you can still make a difference and stop them. Yes, you. You’ve been reading this, and have done nothing about it so far.
You can change that.
TRAI is currently accepting comments from the public on this very issue over the next 10. They want to know what you think about net neutrality, and whether it really does matter to you how you get to use your bandwidth. Does it matter to you?
Hell yeah it does.
I am fully aware that you requested comments only from the stakeholders involved and that you probably only meant those involved in the Telecom industry. However, I am a tax-paying citizen who is a customer of these TSPs. Their services exist because people like me want, nay, need them.
While the economy may be improving in most matters, the service industry continues to drain the common man of most of his/her earnings. Today, every individual wants and needs access to Internet since all of us wish to compete and make a mark on a global level. While my compatriots strive to forge ahead and compete with larger economies, it is only fair of us to expect to be provided a platform and the necessary tools to do so on as even a footing as possible.
In order for that to become a reality, we require the regulatory bodies’ support in ensuring that we are provided with affordable and reliable internet connections which do not violate the basic tenets of net neutrality that several of our allies enjoy.
This is not merely an issue that plagues one generation or demographic but something that can have a huge impact on the economy and growth of this great nation.
I request you to consider this a plea from all the people I’m connected to over the Internet and those that they are connected to.
Thanks and regards
Although you must not stop there.
Tell everyone you know that their opinion matters, anyone who owns a smartphone, anyone who has ever texted you on Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, whichever service you’ve used. Every citizen in this country who uses the internet (there are over 300 million of us, to put that into perspective, that’s the entire population of the United States).
Link them to this article. In turn, link them to http://www.savetheinternet.in/ and sign up to their mailing list.
Make #netneutrality trend in India. Considering the weird list of hashtags that always plague our trending topics, this would be a much-welcome change.
You’re just an email and a couple of status updates from making a difference. Make your opinion count. And defend net neutrality.
Or else in a month’s time, you might have to pay up to access your favourite tumblr that curates pictures of Doctor Who.
With inputs from @suar4sure. All data used here has been cited as is.