Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Free Basics versus Free Internet

The divide between propagandist of for and against net-neutrality debate is getting louder. Facebooks’ Free Basics is the lone corporate warrior along with ISPs, who is pushing ahead with its agenda of discriminatory pricing regime for the Internet in India.
Two things make Internet fancied around the world. It is a platform that existed since the 1970s but was consigned to only research institutes, to collaborate. With the advent of World Wide Web (www) the power of connecting each other evolved and more and more people started connecting to it. It is a platform that became powerful as it was able to connect any and everybody from one continent to another seamlessly without any barriers. In true sense, the world became one market for sourcing of information and collaboration. Secondly, as it was evolving and its power growing, thankfully, no country or its government controlled it, the reason enough people trusted Internet to be non-partisan.
Internet has grown in its acceptance from 16 million (0.4% of world population) in December 1995, to 3366 million (46.4% of world population) in December 2015. This growth is faster especially in the last two years, even on the high base. In India, the number of Internet users has increased from 5 million in 2000 to 243 million users in 2014, covering about 19% of India’s population and this growth rate is much higher in India than world’s average.
With the introduction of Free Basics by Facebook and zero rating by Airtel, the real intention does not seem to give access, but mere profit. While profit may not be a bad word, at the cost of the platform’s existence of non-partisan one platform-one world, should be a definite no. The arguments of increasing the access to people in India who can’t afford the Internet, is a lame excuse. If this argument, for argument’s sake is accepted, what will it create is not a WWW view of Freebasics or Non-FreeBasics view, but probably more than 300 views of Internet worldwide, divided by the ISPs through their “programme”. The corporate may successfully be able to divide it even further based on the “view” that they would like to perpetuate. In this scenario of shrinking slices of available “programme members”, any view from any continent would not only be distorted, but also biased. And that is detrimental to the platform itself.
Facebook cited TRAI’s 1999 tariff order to justify that non-discrimination requirement reaches only discrimination between subscribers of the same class and argues “Thus that prohibition would not appear to reach zero rating or sponsored data programmes, since all subscribers pay the same price (zero) are subject to the same terms, for the same class of service,”. This justification is not valid, as it would kill the competition theory, if one with muscle power can sustain the initial period of “Investment”, to flourish when all the competitors have been vanquished.
Internet is oxygen to the digital world, and any dissection in the name of flavored oxygen should be resisted, however tempting it may be. It is better to remove the pollution from this oxygen, together, and facilitate its greater flow to larger masses in its purest form.

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