On Net Neutrality
The constitution of India accords and guarantees several rights to citizens through its august charter, One of such liberties enshrined its code is the freedom to speech and expression. The right and the ability of individuals to express their opinion is a vital component of any functioning democracy, the right enables and entitles the sharing, gathering and inseminating of opinions without fetters or restrictions. The Internet is a great enabler in this context. Access to the internet allows citizens to monitor governments, share information and opinions, access news and daily events, it allows them to organise and galvanise a disparate populace into a unified mass. The internet has allowed dreamers to become visionaries and provided a voice to the hitherto voiceless who are now able to air their opinions, grievances and are able to mobilise public opinion on social media and other methods over critical issues that need the attention of the powers to be in the country.
The role of the internet in advancing human learning and capacity has been beyond our imagination and expectation; it has allowed unprecedented interchange of information and across international borders enriching us and opening our eyes to the world at large and helped create and foster communities. It should therefore come as no surprise that a United Nations report has gone as far to declare unrestricted access to the internet a human right.
The internet has also become an integral platform for businesses because of its speed , connectivity and its open, transparent and frankly; egalitarian nature. The internet acts as an equal opportunity medium for all businesses allowing them to and fro access to consumers and other associates without favour or bias, this parity allows for the emergence of business models which are beneficial to the interests of consumers to emerge and challenge the entrenched players their respective industries. Without equal access to the internet such disruptive models, new applications, stores and, services that we utilise on a daily basis would have remained a pipe dream.
It is in this context that I am alarmed by the recent events aimed at impinging the principles of net Neutrality. It is our belief that internet service providers should be restricted to only providing access to data and should not be able to provide preferential access based upon source, to one stream of data over another. This discriminatory approach is detrimental to one and all and by virtue of such restrictions impinges upon the freedom of expressions of users by enabling telecom companies to restrict access to methods of communications and services which may not be conducive to their business models.
I am of the opinion that the internet cannot be broken into silos. Service providers in businesses that provide utilities are paid on the basis of the volumes consumed by the customers. Electricity companies cannot levy separate charges for the use of a table fan versus an air conditioner, similarly water distribution companies cannot an additional charge if the water they supply is used to prepare an evening’s refreshment instead of watering the lawn. Further, should the end user be able to utilise the water or electricity delivered by such companies to earn extraordinary profits It would be absurd and unjustifiable of such companies to demand a share of profits from the users. Just because a billion dollar deal takes place over the phone does not entitle the telecom operator to claim a share in the profits of the user. In the same manner a telecom operator or an ISP should function solely as a pipeline and not be able to distinguish between various uses of the data or levy separate charges for one use over another. Allowing such discrimination has a far reaching impact by affecting not only businesses by creating an uneven playing field, but also prevents free discourse and putting a stop to ideas that do not conform with the views or pockets of the operators.
The solution in my opinion, is to treat Internet Service Providers on par with utility firms, the customers should be charged on the basis of the data consumed by such customers irrespective of what the individual packets of data convey. Allowing enterprises to discriminate between an email, a lovers note, a cat video or a revolutionary manifesto sets us all on a slippery slope away from the freedoms that we cherish and seek to maintain.