Internet: A utility and not a privilege4 min read
Before you assume this to be a techie write-up, I want you to imagine a world without internet neutrality. A dystopian online environment, with only 1% of the population having the privilege of accessing the internet, while the ones with shallow pockets only wishing for a miracle. I think they would probably resort to stealing the internet, or becoming hermits in the coming future.
Internet bureaucracy for IT startups will remain a wet dream for them as they sit in air conditioned sweatshops, coding to serve the interests of their CEO who pass off their work off as his own. A new era of zamindars will arise in India where they will carve out the virtual world for themselves, while the common folk will scramble about, to catch a glimpse of even the Google logo.
Major telecom companies have filed a grievance claiming that a share of the profit of third party data sharing apps and websites is theirs by right. Supporting their claim, the Telecom Regulating Authority of India has decided to pay lip service to them, and allotted the time of a fortnight (April 24th) for consumers to submit their disagreements, if any. Remember that these are the same telecom companies which have been exorbitantly exploiting their mobile users with empty promises of providing “high speed 3G internet” with “perfect” network coverage. The only time I get 3G speed is when I stand between the kitchen door and the living room, and not an inch ahead or behind.
Net neutrality has been instrumental in safeguarding personal expression over the internet thus empowering the public to become trend setters, opinion makers and crusading journalists. While the government preaches development as propaganda, I don’t see the scope of development in a nation where every single platform for the expression of free speech is slowly engulfed into a web of facades just to profit the corporates.
Most prominent of all, Bharti Airtel has set up a new service, ‘Airtel Zero’, tailor-made to cater to the needs of the users and developers once they are deprived of a neutral Internet, which was once notably supported by Flipkart. Through this, all developers who sign up for Airtel Zero will profit from the data charges for parts or all elements of their app.
This is like paying cover charge for an all-you-can-eat buffet while still having to tip the servers at every single food station. You will then wonder, “why the cover charges?” The maître d’ will then politely reply, “Just for the privilege of being in the dining room.”
Internet is built around the idea of openness. Without net neutrality, the Internet Service Providers (ISP) will be the primary and only framers of the internet traffic. And this they will regulate to their profits. A site in contract with the ISPs will load fast and the contemporaries will load at Dial-up speeds. None of us are strangers to the psychological effects slow internet can induce in people.
Internet is one of the only spheres we can exercise our freedom without a hindrance. An attack on that is a direct attack on the freedom of a consumer and on the citizens of our democracy. I, as a free citizen, do not appreciate being virtually herded around with the corporates deciding which sites I should browse to make their wallets fatter. Having a biased network turns the internet into something like a real estate free-for-all for the giant companies and ending the scope of individual startups.
We lose our virtual freedom.
We lose the scope of young entrepreneurs to change the corporate fields of India
And in a way, yet again, we lose in the battle of equality.
All is not lost though; some individuals have made a website for users to submit their emails to TRAI to upkeep the neutrality. Overwhelmed by the public response of over 6 lakh emails, Flipkart has pulled out of their partnership with Airtel, and claimed support towards the cause of net neutrality.
A free, unhindered Internet is not a privilege in today’s world, it is a utility, one you cannot do away with. For a country sinking deep into the quagmires of corporate dominance, it is high time we raise our voices for something which is an integral part of the country’s development.
Or you can directly email TRAI and post your grievance, by sending an email to [email protected] .
Budhaditya Mukhuty is a reporter at The Manipal Journal and a student of School of Communication.
The views expressed in the blog are personal.