This post deals with the importance of Net neutrality and its relation with services like free basics and internet.org by facebook.
- what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.
- What is open Internet?
Open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some as closely related to open-source software.
- How is net neutrality related to open Internet? And How did it shape the Internet?
In open Internet net neutrality doesn’t allow any people, government organizations, companies,etc. to discriminate among the data present on internet and the users accessing it. And hence doesn’t allow certain individuals to gain profit on the basis of discrimination done between the data.
- Net neutrality has shaped the internet in two fundamental ways -
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.
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.
- Why net neutrality?
Network neutrality is important because a public information network will end up being most useful if all content, sites, and platforms are treated equally. And if we tried to discriminate among sites then it can cause some serious consequences. 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. 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 startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.
- Net neutrality in India
As of 2015, India had no laws governing net neutrality and there have been violations of net neutrality principles by some service providers. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, they do not enforce it. The Information Technology Act, 2000 does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests. In India, telecom operators and ISPs offering VoIP services have to pay a part of their revenues to the government. In March 2015, the TRAI released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It was condemned by various politicians and internet users. By 24 April 2015, over a million emails had been sent to TRAI demanding net neutrality. Violations of net neutrality have been common in India. Examples beyond Facebook’s Internet.org include Aircel’s Wikipedia Zero along with Aircel’s free access to Facebook and WhatsApp, Airtel’s free access to Google, and Reliance’s free access to Twitter.
- What happens when you support services like internet.org or free basics by Facebook?
Free basics and Internet.org aims at providing basic internet connectivity (this includes few selected sites and other sites won’t be visible on this platform) free to unconnected regions across Asian, African and Latin American regions. and for this purpose the company has partnered more than a dozen mobile operators across 19 countries to provide the free internet platform. But net neutrality activists from various parts of the world are criticizing it severely as this platform is “threatening freedom of expression” and presented a “walled garden” for first-time users. They also argue that the platform will stifle the start-up culture and curb innovation. The platform has been criticized by activists in India as well, including savetheinternet.in, with many writing to Zuckerberg as well as TRAI against its continuity in the present form.
So while supporting free basics on facebook keep in mind that it’ll allow the first time internet users to access it within a “walled garden” and hence “threatening their freedom of expression”.