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Net neutrality debate: Added threat to newcomers in India

Internet has become the undisputed source of information and entertainment for net users across the globe and with progress in the information technology industry, companies are committed to leveraging its benefits in the best possible manner. Based on this common intention, the net neutrality debate is becoming gathering steam in India.

Net neutrality can be defined as a principle where all entities in an ecosystem including internet service providers and government bodies treat internet data equally and not favour or divert traffic towards any particular party or charge different users differently. It seeks to put net in a neutral state for all its users. This also means that what was once available, can now have an additional cost to it irrespective of the data provider.

In India, the net neutrality debate is being dubbed as ‘Save the Internet’ campaign and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has given till until April 24, 2015 to invite public consultation on the issue that is free of any corporate interest. Consumers should be allowed to access all the application offered by the internet without any corporate internet influencing their choice.

Telecom operators are lobbying with TRAI to charge differently for different internet services which will increase the data cost for the consumer based on the number of applications he wants to access. Violating the principles of net neutrality, telecom companies will be limiting the options for consumers as they will be forced to access the favoured website as other are taking too long to load or are restricted on back of the extra data charge.

In the fight for net neutrality, corporate biggies such as Airtel and Flipkart have come into limelight. Airtel Zero is a marketing platform that allows consumers to access the applications which have subscribed to Airtel Zero, free of any data charge but puts a great deal of pressure on net neutrality. Free access sounds alluring but the strategy may not work equally well in long run as consumers will be allowed to access only the participating application – the one who have tied up the telecom operator.

Marketers believe that violation of net neutrality challenges the principles of a democratic country like India. If countries like US, UK and Brazil have embraced net neutrality then why is India contesting fair use of internet ? If fair competition in the arena must be observed, each player must be given equal opportunity to contest in the market, according to Vivek Bhargava, Chief Executive Officer at iProspectCommunicate2.

“If internet gives preferential treatment to one player, the new players will not have a chance to grow in the industry and compete with the established players in the market. If we do not give the new companies nourishment in the childhood stage then they will perish before they compete with any other company in the market,” Mr Bhargava explained.

In an ideal situation, internet access should be free for all users and at the same speed. Onliners across India are aghast following the threat on net neutrality in India. Dedicated platform for paid applications may be a good option in short run and from a marketing perspective but is threat to the future of internet in India as consumers will not be able to enjoy internet access the way they have for the past couple of decades in India.