Recently there was social outrage on some plan to be launched in future by Airtel (name: platform, zero), diverted my attention to this word net neutrality. So to understand this concept let us start with an example. Let’s say you want to buy something on internet and you are not able to do. Want to search something on google, sorry not allowed. You want to use some low profile social site not popular like facebook, not going to work. Want to stream videos on youtube, sorry denied. The only sites you can access is facebook, flipkart or highly popular social sites. Think this scenario and now you may get a question in mind why this will happen? This has not happened before. So guys this is what will happen when internet will not remain neutral.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is an idea derived from how telephone lines have worked since the beginning of the 20th century. In case of a telephone line, you can dial any number and connect to it. It does not matter if you are calling from operator A to operator B. It doesn’t matter if you are calling a restaurant or a drug dealer. The operators neither block the access to a number nor deliberately delay connection to a particular number, unless forced by the law. Most of the countries have rules that ask telecom operators to provide an unfiltered and unrestricted phone service.
When the internet started to take off in 1980s and 1990s, there were no specific rules that asked that internet service providers (ISPs) should follow the same principle. But, mostly because telecom operators were also ISPs, they adhered to the same principle. This principle is known as net neutrality. An ISP does not control the traffic that passes its servers. When a web user connects to a website or web service, he or she gets the same speed. Data rate for Youtube videos and Facebook photos is theoretically same. Users can access any legal website or web service without any interference from an ISP.
How did net neutrality shape the internet?
Net neutrality has shaped the internet in two fundamental ways.
One, web users are free to connect to whatever website or service they want. ISPs do not bother with what kind of content is flowing from their servers. This has allowed the internet to grow into a truly global network and has allowed people to freely express themselves. For example, you can criticize your ISP on a blog post and the ISP will not restrict access to that post for its other subscribers even though the post may harm its business.
But more importantly, net neutrality has enabled a level playing field on the internet. To start a website, you don’t need lot of money or connections. Just host your website and you are good to go. If your service is good, it will find favour with web users. Unlike the cable TV where you have to forge alliances with cable connection providers to make sure that your channel reaches viewers, on internet you don’t have to talk to ISPs to put your website online.
This has led to creation Google, Facebook, Twitter and countless other services. All of these services had very humble beginnings. They started as a basic websites with modest resources. But they succeeded because net neutrality allowed web users to access these websites in an easy and unhindered way.
What will happen if there is no net neutrality?
If there is no net neutrality, ISPs will have the power (and inclination) to shape internet traffic so that they can derive extra benefit from it. For example, several ISPs believe that they should be allowed to charge companies for services like YouTube and Netflix because these services consume more bandwidth compared to a normal website. Basically, these ISPs want a share in the money that YouTube or Netflix make.
Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it will not exist. Instead of free access, there could be “package plans” for consumers. For example, if you pay Rs 500, you will only be able to access websites based in India. To access international websites, you may have to pay a more. Or maybe there can be different connection speed for different type of content, depending on how much you are paying for the service and what “add-on package” you have bought. Or like the specific packages such as, if you buy a package of Rs. 200 you would be able to use whatsapp messenger only.
Lack of net neutrality, will also spell doom for innovation on the web. It is possible that ISPs will charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. Those who don’t pay may see that their websites will open slowly. This means bigger companies like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube or Google+ faster for web users but a start-up that wants to create a different, better and more customer oriented market may not be able to do that. And this would lead to monopoly of the big firms.
Instead of an open and free internet, without net neutrality we are likely to get a web that has silos in it and to enter each silo, you will have to pay some “tax” to ISPs.
What is the state of net neutrality in India?
Legally, the concept of net neutrality doesn’t exist in India. Sunil Abraham, director of Centre for internet and Society in Bangalore, says that TRAI, which regulates the telecom industry, has tried to come up with some rules regarding net neutrality several times. For example it invited comments on the concept of net neutrality from industry bodies and stakeholders in 2006. But no formal rules have been formed to uphold and enforce net neutrality.
However, despite lack of formal rules, ISPs in India mostly adhere to the principal of net neutrality. There have been some incidents where Indian ISPs have ignored net neutrality but these are few.
Europe, Chile, Netherlands, Solvenia and even Brazil has joined the club of net neutrality and in India the debate is still far from finished.
Guys you are able to read this post as internet today is neutral otherwise I would not have been able to start this website. So I would like to say that someone is trying to take our freedom for their personal gains and we should stop them. savetheinternet.in an online campaign to preserve a free internet has already directed over 10 lakh emails to the Telecom authority regulatory of india which is holding a consultation process regarding net neutrality and zero rating and we hope the result should not be biased.