In a landmark ruling, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has come out in favor of net neutrality and upheld the integrity of a free Internet for one and all in the Indian telecom industry. TRAI has now banned broadband providers and mobile carriers from offering differential pricing to customers based on what content and data plans they offer to them. This in turn has dealt a huge blow to Facebook and their ‘Free Basics’ plan which was met with a lot of suspicion and scrutiny due to its padlocked nature.
The full version of the transcript by TRAI can be read here.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the universal concept that all sites and services on the Internet should be free to access for one and all. This is especially true in a democracy such as ours. The benefits of this freedom are easy to understand – everyone in the country can get free access to all websites on the Internet. This allows people to access information as and when they please, and it also enables them to use these services for trade, business and for developing their own technologies. Clearly, this is the basis for any economy to succeed. This is also the basis on which the biggest technological companies today such as Facebook, Google and others have flourished over the years.
But the issue gets cloudy when people start saying that only a small percentage of people actually have access to the Internet. They say that the reasons for this are that these people are below the poverty line and cannot afford data plans or smartphones. So what do the proponents of this theory do? They decide to offer a select few services to these people for free. But by doing so, the integrity of the free Internet is severely threatened.
How zero-rated Internet services upset Net Neutrality
The simple explanation here is that when some sites and services are offered for free, the users are ultimately discouraged from using similar services (which may actually be better) that cost a bit more. For instance, if as part of the Free Basics plan a user gets free access to Bing, why would he pay money to access Google? The underlying concept of the Internet is that the user is free to choose any site he wants, and this concept is put under threat by zero-rated services.
Moreover, the reasons why a particular service would be available on a zero-rated service over and above its competitor are not known to users. It could be because the service has paid money and is underwriting the cost, it could be because the runner of the service wants to gain some political advantage, and it could just be that the service runner wants to get in the good books of the service provider. So where does this leave the common user? He is at the mercy of constantly changing, ambiguous and money making corporations who are simply using the idea of charity as a means to enhance their market reach and profitability.
However, TRAI has now seen the light after a lot of media backlash by Internet bodies who have strongly voiced their opinions on this matter. They have clearly stated – “No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.” This is a prominent victory for the supporters of a free Internet, and surely this signals the end of Facebook’s much publicized (and aggressively advertised) Free Basics plan.
So what do you think of this ruling by TRAI? Let us know in the comments section below.