Business Strategy

How Justified Is The Ongoing Hue & Cry On Net Neutrality In India?

How Justified Is The Ongoing Hue & Cry On Net Neutrality In India?
Net neutrality issue involving big companies and start ups

Image Source: Iksa.in

As I write this article, may be another thousand of emails accumulate in official email ID of TRAI where lacs of aggrieved Indians are clamoring for Net Neutrality in India. An open internet which means the freedom to communicate freely is the guiding principle of the concept of Net Neutrality. Apparently a number of public personalities from various walks of life and the super mighty Indian media is discussing internet neutrality, canvassing every other Indian to join the bandwagon and support the cause.

We as an Editorial Team of Businesswolf.org completely support the Net Neutrality. But somehow we feel that there is a lot of hullabaloo for no cogent reasons and we have crusaders who are targeting the wrong set of organisations for wrong reasons and should have a good understanding of the topic at hand. The ethos is being compromised and this is a fad which calls for our serious attention and deliberation.

We certainly do not wish to dismiss or undermine the importance of this entire issue on net neutrality. Quarter million Indians have written e-mails to the TRAI, more than a million Indians have raised their voices against this on various public forums and every other public figure is busy gathering some footage on eve.

News and articles on Flipkart pulling out of Airtel Zero is abound stating that to avoid public backlash Flipkart took such a step. Now let’s assume Flipkart had entered into an agreement with Airtel and would have made its website/app freely accessible through “Airtel Zero Plan”. This would be a premium that Flipkart would have paid to Airtel on behalf of its users. The question is where does it challenge concept of net neutrality? End Users are not paying for accessing the Flipkart website. To have a better understanding of this issue let us take the analogy of a toll free number. Whenever a customer calls on the toll free number, the customer incurs no cost as the company pays for the call to the toll free service provider which is quite akin to the arrangement between Airtel and Flipkart on “Airtel Zero Plan”. We can’t find a single document where Airtel as a service provider has refused Snapdeal or Amazon etc for an accommodation in “Airtel Zero Plan”. Airtel and/or Flipkart would be a villain if they refused any other brand to enter in this plan. The fact is they haven’t refused other players. May be tomorrow Vodafone comes with a similar plan, and Snapdeal may enter an agreement with them, where’s the harm? How is net neutrality damaged? Let’s not sensitize the word net neutrality, for a different cause altogether. Airtel would have been wrong iff others apart from flipkart were not allowed, or if on a normal broadband connection airtel had barred a specific website of some other retailer from opening or with higher loading time. However, this is not the case at all.

Every guy on TV debates is trying to make Airtel a culprit. We need to look at the credentials of Airtel as well. Perhaps Airtel is the only Indian telecom company which has put India on the global map. Airtel is considered as a brand globally and is known for its service quality. Besides it  had never been found enmeshed in any kind of scam or corruption in the past. Airtel is a completely home grown brand which dared to outsource its affairs to foreign companies for its various verticals such as Technical to Nokia Siemens, Operations to Alcatel / Accenture. Treatment of this kind is highly uncalled for when it comes to such companies.

Again another question that may come up or some of the social media threads and TV are already debating is just the way VAS companies have been destroyed by telecom companies as there has been a toll tax charged by these telecoms in terms of Trai Regulatory. Good VAS companies which were supposed to come up in a big way have now been cast to oblivion. We, the editorial team definitely advocate the idea of imposing proper check and balances in place to improve their existence. Better control of TRAI over telecom service providers would definitely have let the VAS companies do well but their existence was short lived because of 80% toll tax of telecoms. Thus a stricter regime of TRAI tackling the issue of Net Neutrality would definitely be a welcome move.

A certain section of the protesters have also raised the concern of the how preferential treatment to the biggies such as Flipkart, Whatsapp, Skype is being unjust to the  smaller start ups who will be suppressed and be cast to oblivion.  Let me ask the audience one question is free and easy internet accessibility the only merit on which Flipkart stands? Should we attribute the entire billion dollar sales figure of Flipkart or other E-Retailers to internet connectivity only? We believe there would be customers who would do their share of research and also visit all the websites before making a purchase and hence there would be a fair equilibrium. Free internet is just not the only way to incentivise people to purchase products on Flipkart as free internet is not going to be the only USP of Flipkart or any other ecommerce retailers such as Snapdeal or Amazon.  User-friendly interface, diversity and breadth in the offerings of these e-tailers happen to be some of the very important factors that determine their popularity amongst online shoppers.

Following a similar logic, I would also request the protesters to also write an email to COAI or the Cellular Operator Association of India and make all the pre-loaded handset specific apps such as TripAdvisor with Samsung, FB on Nokia phones should not be allowed in first place. A phone with an internal memory of 4 GB would have 1 GB consumed by pre loaded Apps. Isn’t this provoking? Why are the protesters silent here?

Now, lets see who are protesting and what kind of people comprise the bandwagon. If we carefully notice then it’s quite evident that the real guys who have started this campaign, the so called genius intelligentsia are mainly investors who may have invested in various e-commerce companies and thus we can sense a deep rooted conspiracy in the entire protest affair, attacking specific internet service provider and specific e-commerce companies. Should  not we the common man do our share of due diligence before we jump on the bandwagon ? If we carefully notice the rabble rousers are a set of people with vested interest who intend to mobilize the commoners by presenting a distorted set of information and undermining the business related undercurrents involved in the issue. We definitely support the cause of Net Neutrality and underscore the responsibility of TRAI in the entire issue and appreciate the act of setting up a research committee by TRAI, as a very welcome move.

 

This article is completely based on the personal views of Mr Prashant Sahay, Mr Saswata Das and Mr Yash Vardhan, Editorial Team of Businesswolf.org

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