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By Violating Net Neutrality, How Airtel Threatens The Future Of Communication In India

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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.

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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.

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  1. krishna

    after a very long time finally!

    atleast someone is sensible enough to understand the importance of internet.

    And if we are talking about the development of our country on this mouthpiece for youth website, it is important to understand that a lot of it depends on internet. And since we cannot create internet , we are totally dependent on the Internet Service providers.

    Who are these ISPs? Some private operators who just wanna get rich by providing shitty services at premium prices. But we can’t entirely blame them because the government of India and TRAI and the state owned ISPs like MTNL and BSNL aren’t setting up an eample either.

    We were supposed to get 3G on our mobile phones back in the year 2008. The talks for 3G had started in the year 2007 only. But thanks to corruption and delays the highly priced licenses for 3G and BWA spectrum were sold to some companies for 70,000 crores back in 2010. atleast on paper. They were given a time period of 5 years for providing excellent coverage of 90% in urban areas and 50% of coverage in rural areas where they held these licenses. These 5 years are about to be expired in coming june 2015. And i can’t see any excellent coverage even in the capital of India.

    Theoretically speaking 3G is supposed to provide HSDPA speeds about 21.1 Mbps . About ten times what we are getting now on our obsolete copper wires.

    i had high hopes with reliance 4G LTE because it can provide speeds upto 100 Mpbs but they are now filing for an extension of 5 years ..till 2020 to provide these services in any of the areas.

    LOL. and we expect to download movies and content for our new Sony “4K” television on what ? dial up ? Maybe they should charge a premium for it ?

    And whats next by airtel urf FAILtel ?
    Premium for Whatsapp messages ? “top up” packs for updating your FB status more than 3 times a day.

  2. Nilufer Jain

    An excellent piece written by the YKA team! Having worked myself as a research analyst with a telecom research firm, its sad to see that Airtel is threatening to violate net neutrality in India. While people in Scandinavian countries enjoy speeds of 100Mbps we in India have to be happy with 10Mbps that too in places with excellent coverage otherwise be content with 2-4Mbps. Although throttling to monetize voice and internet is a common practice everywhere to increase consumer adoption of services and spend however, in India the worst is what the consumer spends; he is often unable to find the quality/quantity of services delivered. In US for example if a consumer spends 500 USD a month for his bundled services (voice, internet, mobile and TV), he is getting around at least 40Mbps along with 4G LTE and value for money movie packs. More than throttling and looking at scaring the VoIP providers (since they are taking away the operators fair share of pie) they should first work on providing quality and deliver value for money services to the Indian user in and beyond metro cities.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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