Apr.18

My Take on Net Neutrality

Let me start with some basic ground facts:

1. I owe everything I am to internet which doesn’t have any shackles of any kind.

2. I have already signed and sent the petition/response mail drafted by savetheinternet.in

3. I am ready to go on an all out war in support for Net Neutrality

4. I have listened to many arguments/ Read a lot of articles written/ Watched all relevant videos (that includes AIB’s video and I have observed a flaw in it which seems to be intentionally presented in a twisted manner) related to Net Neutrality debate which is a hot topic nowadays.

5. I have come to the below conclusions after analysing all THREE sides of the debate.

Here it is.

I would like to start with where it all started. It started with Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative. The idea is extremely noble and well understood and extremely important and needed in today’s era. But Mark twisted it by assuming that giving Facebook services free he is empowering the poor and backward communities. If he really wants to have the world online, give a NEUTRAL internet free of cost. So no matter the idea was noble, he took the nobility out of it by just promoting Facebook there. Plus he expected that Telecom Service Providers would just have a change of heart and start giving free service where they have paid millions of dollars just to get that spectrum band to operate on. I would like to quote Vodafone Global CEO’s statement at Mobile Congress in last month.

“Its Like Mark wants to do philanthropy but with my money”

And Airtel CEO’s statement at same event.

“It’s a good idea. Lets do this. Make everything free. Tell the governments to make the spectrum free too”

Now Mark has one liner which he thinks will work on any Indian

“I am echoing Prime Minister Modi’s words of Digital India”

Well Mark, he meant Digital India and not India on Facebook.

When I put up my Facebook status which said,

Mark Zuckerberg is supporting net neutrality. Either he doesn’t know what it means or he is a hypocrite or he thinks everyone is a fool

many people didn’t understand it. It means, Mark has wrongfully assumed that being connected to Facebook is all an individual needs to grow.

Now coming to Airtel Zero.

When Airtel was coming under fire for being too greedy by not giving off free internet, (now this fire wasn’t in public but in internal board rooms. Maybe it was there. Maybe it wasn’t. I am assuming Airtel was coming under pressure because Reliance already opted for Internet.org ), a true Businessman took a decision in Airtel Board Room. They came up with Airtel Zero. Its a concept similar to Toll Free Numbers. All the access to all the phones (in this case websites and data access) will be equal. The difference is, instead of you paying, the website owner will pay. That’s it. That is Airtel Zero. That is what was needed in today’s era where Internet consumption is rising exponentially and people are in turn paying more. This will start a new competition and a healthy one at that. And people will in turn automatically start getting internet on their phones because they will now know that half of their usage will actually be paid by someone else.

This was today echoed by Airtel CEO writing a e-letter to all his customers. It says,

Dear Customer
Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality. Let me clarify.
  1. Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and do not know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet they will join the digital revolution.
  2. Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.
  3. Our platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non discriminatory basis.
  4. There is no difference between this and toll free voice such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrols into the toll free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged. Calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else our whole business would be jeopardized. Toll free voice helps the business owner engage with their customer. At the same time it provides the customer the benefit of reaching the business for free. Toll free voice is not a product or a tariff plan, it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll free voice to the world of data. As a result it is for the application developer and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for. If the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which web site they want to visit, whether it is toll free or not. If they visit a toll free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site normal data charges apply.
Finally every web site, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business. As a result we will always do what is right for our customers.
There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited.
In sum our platform is a technology platform and is open to all application developers and their customers. Our platform only provides a choice of how the data that is consumed is paid for by any of the two – the application provider or their customer. Whether any application provider enrolls on the platform or not is entirely their choice. All we have is a technology. We do not have a product or tariff plan that we have launched. We simply have a platform. And every application developer and their customer is free to choose in an entirely neutral way what they want to do.
In conclusion, we stand fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister`s vision of digital India are met.
 
Regards,
Gopal Vittal
MD & CEO
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia

I was waiting for this letter since last week because I knew, if I would have been understood wrongly and a whole campaign was being run against it, which breached a new idea which had a huge potential, I would have written these exact same words. Good Job Airtel on that one!

Coming lastly to our humor buddies. AIB.

I actually liked the video. They have actually made excellent points on it and most of the video is informative and factually correct. And it was important someone took up the baton to educate people about Net Neutrality when everyone is debating on it and most of them didn’t even know what it meant. The video was good. But they got one thing wrong. And I think they should retract it or at least clarify it to their viewers in some way.

Telecom Companies think that they are losing money because everyone who has innovated is making money on internet which they are providing to their customers by setting up costly infrastructure. They are getting greedy.

Now one point they made is absolutely correct.

That people will obviously go and surf the website which doesn’t charge them for data rather than the one which charges them data. And that young startups will go powerless against big giants.

What they added a twisted fact there is,

Telecom Operators would hamper the usage factor of their non-partnering websites. So The non partners would not be having a smooth service delivery but rather a slow and frustrating connection.

Now this is Against Net Neutrality. Absolutely. And This should never happen. Today I am supporting Airtel Zero but if in future they do this scam, I’ll be the first to lodge a complaint against them.

However their first observation is strictly against Business. They cannot expect everything to be free of charge or think some kind of Robin Hood is going to save the world. They are huge corporations, They have Money. They can afford to provide luxury of free-data to their customers. And that’s the beauty of being a deep pocket enterprise. Else the money will lose all its credibility in business planning. It will apparently become that even if you don’t have money, its fine; you can still run a business. Money is an important resource to have. And it should be used accordingly. It doesn’t make ME money-minded but I believe Money has its importance and it shouldn’t fade completely away from the system. If you are a young startup, it is an added challenge for you to innovate better and beat the huge pocket company at their own game.

Any Tom, Dick and Harry should not open his mouth and say my business shut down because someone bought a corporate data pack from the telecom operator.

Feel free to express your responses!

General Thought