By Vijay Anand:
Violating the principles of net neutrality (that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication), Bharti Airtel has introduced differential pricing based on type of Mobile Internet usage, by charging consumers differently for using the Mobile Internet for services such as Skype and Viber, and differently for other types of Mobile Internet usage. Telecom Talk points us towards this change in Airtel’s terms and conditions for 3G services.
Back in the 70s when we were laying the telecom network in India, someone cheapened out. They laid the copper wires, but laid very poor quality copper – because we were a third world country at that point and telephones were a luxury. Years later when broadband came to the country, the same infrastructure became the bottleneck because the poor quality copper could not transmit more than 256kbps of data. The Govt had to make enormous investments in optic fibre to get internet access to most of the country.
Truth is, that infrastructure is still primitive. While countries like sweden and Hong Kong are talking about gigabit internet access, we are not able to go beyond 10 – 12Mbps. Airtel, in fact is the worst of them all, and is stuck at 8mbps for limited areas. Most of the locations are maxed out at 4mbps.
Wired connections are very expensive. And in a country where the population is very dense, installing of switches and constantly maintaining and upgrading them is a pain in the ass.
The future of broadband in this country is wireless. And how is it going to go wireless? It will most probably rely on 3G/4G and the future generations of mobile internet.
That’s why what Airtel is proposing is very dangerous. It means for the near forseeable future, and perhaps even into the generation of our children, they will control what we consume and how we consume. That is not acceptable. It makes it harder for service providers to enter into the market – you can see that even today, the middle east, thanks to its anarchy on throttling the internet has very little innovations and services built on top of it. You cannot build services without the operators blessing you.
This affects everything. App developers, Your television that is streaming content, your chrome box, your messaging apps, video conferencing (as if it wasn’t too darn expensive already), online gaming – and in the future who is to stop these operators from saying that in order for Uber to operate and run on top of their network, Uber needs to pay them, or they will shut them down? They can do that.
The last time the operators had that much control in the name of walled gardens – the people who actually built the service got a pie of less than 30% where the rest was taken by these operators. And we haven’t moved an inch further in mobile commerce, or mobile payments thanks to the politics each of them played against each other. The mobile industry grew in the blood of vendors. People like reliance were famous for saying publicly that they don’t pay vendors – but thats a whole different story. Thankfully, the mobile platform opened up and app stores liberated developers, service providers and connected them directly to the consumers cutting out the fat boss in between.
There are services we haven’t even thought of yet. Think of the world of the internet of things. Or the future where cars are connected and can talk to each other. Airtel is setting a precedent where each and every one of these service will get blocked, penalized and charged extra for.
You could be signing on, to take a free course on coursera, but will have to buy the educational package.
It is not upto them to decide what rides on the network, and charge for it. TRAI wont – or rather cant – do much on this, because the agreement with the operators are broadly set as “can monetize voice and messaging services” and whether its voice via their own switches or voice via VoIP, they believe it gives them the right.
Net Neutrality and Privacy are very binary debates. It’s a one way street – once you step in, there is no way to go back to a free and open internet, much of which has been the reason why the web thrives on innovation. As if India hasn’t been set back by annoying statutory regulations, do startups and the technology community and the consumer at large need to be throttled further?
Air your view and make it heard. #BoycottAirtel. Sign the petition at http://yka.be/147fARh and join the Twitter/Facebook action at http://thndr.it/1zp67wr
Vijay Anand is the Founder of The Startup Center. This post was originally published on his blog.