What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is a concept which identifies internet as a free space without bias against anyone. It enables and protects free speech while providing for the right to communicate freely online.
Net Neutrality implies that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should provide open and unrestricted internet access to its users. This is the underlying concept of internet when it was built in the 20th century.
The telephone companies did not block or govern the speed with which a call was made. Anyone anywhere could call everyone everywhere. Since these telephone companies now provide internet access, they do so in accordance to the principle of Net Neutrality.
Bear in mind that without Net Neutrality, these companies can carve the Internet into slow and fast lanes to the extent that an ISP can slow down its competitors’ content and even block political opinions that it disagrees with. Apart from other benefits, Net Neutrality also enables the Minorities to raise their voices and be heard.
Why is Net Neutrality important?
Net Neutrality is the reason behind the furiously fast innovations which the world has seen, for example Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. Ironically, companies like these are now lining up with the telecom operators in order to break the fabric of the internet. Without Net Neutrality, the internet will become a fragmented platform treating people with greater paying capacity in a better way.
Why is Net Neutrality important for businesses?
Start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs rely on open internet to launch their products and services. In case of absence of Net Neutrality, they will suffer as their content will load slowly or may not even load at the user end. This will discourage entrepreneurship and will result in slowdown in job growth, competition and innovation. Since the large multinationals will be in competition with smaller units with low paying capacity, there will be a greater economic inequality.
Net Neutrality lowers the barriers of entry for start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs by ensuring the Web as a fair and level playing field. Without Net Neutrality, the next Google would never get off the ground.
What does Sir Tim Berners-Lee have to say about Net Neutrality?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of World Wide Web (WWW), revealed that World Wide Web was developed as a neutral, creative and collaborative space. According to his vision, the World Wide Web is focussed on the ‘flow of information’. It means that anyone, anywhere in the world can share ideas and knowledge without needing to buy a license or ask permission from any CEO, government department or committee.
As Sir Tim Berners-Lee puts it, Net Neutrality is the core concept of internet. It means that ‘each packet of data must be treated equally by the network in terms of speed, access and cost. In his opinion, there should be no censorship.
Why is Net Neutrality in news?
Some of the telecom operators in the United States have played around with the idea of a ‘fast lane’ for certain services. In India, Airtel came up with a plan to charge its users for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services like WhatsApp. But, due to a massive protest on social media, the plan was scraped.
Airtel Zero is a new marketing platform developed by Airtel where the companies will pay Airtel so that their content is available for free to all users. Flipkart struck a deal with Airtel for the same, but later backed down due to immense backlash from the social media. If the deal was signed, it meant that Flipkart’s content was available for free to all the Airtel users.
It looks like a fair deal, but this will undermine other players like Snapdeal or Amazon on Airtel because their content will load slowly as compared to that of Flipkart. This will also undermine the new players (start-ups) because start-ups are always short on cash. All new ventures are handicapped irrespective of how innovative they are. Also, the users of Vodafone and others will be tempted to migrate to Airtel. Therefore, if the regulating agency (TRAI) does not interfere, there will be a scenario where Flipkart works well on Airtel, Snapdeal on Idea and Amazon on Vodafone.
The Telecommunications Authority of India (TRAI) is formulating the regulations regarding Net Neutrality including the OTT (Over The Top) services like Viber, WhatsApp, etc. According to TRAI, these cheaper OTT services are eating away a major chunk of the profits of the telecom operators. Services like WhatsApp and Hike have made the traditional messaging i.e. SMS (Short Messaging Service) obsolete.
Over The Top (OTT) refers to the delivery of audio, video and any other media over the Internet without the involvement of a multiple-system operator in the control or distribution of the content.
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