What is this net neutrality debate and why is it so important?
To answer this, lets look at it from the point of view of the two parties that will face the greatest impact:
People or consumers: If Facebook/Reliance/Airtel is successfull in their plan, it will bring access to free or lower priced internet to hundreds of thousands of people who still are untouched by the power of the internet.
For the city/town folk, spending Rs. 100 for an internet pack may not be that big an amount. But for people in India’s villages, where monthly earnings hardly cross the 1000 mark, this amount is big.
Strangely though access to feature/smartphones has increased, both with city and village folk. Reasons are widespread immigration among villagers and reduction in prices of feature/smartphones.
If Facebook/Reliance/Airtel become successful, internet will become more accessible to such people. Facebook will be able to further widen its base, but so will ecommerce companies. Also information will become more available. More information means greater empowerment.
Content providers: Now lets look at the other party. Notable among the big content providers are Facebook, Twitter, Flipkart, NDTV, Times of India etc. Interestingly they are not the ones who have problem with net neutrality. They are big already. They are only looking to become bigger and monopolize the business. In case a telecom provider like Reliance or Airtel floats a cartel, these content providers are sure to find entry in one or other.
The content providers who are shouting the most about net neutrality are the smaller players. Their logic – if your phone gives you free access to Facebook, why will you want to pay and try any other indigenous social network. Similarly a smaller but competitive ecommerce player will never be able to make a mark if Flipkart is available for free on your phone.
So now the question arises. Who should be given priority? Consumers or content providers? It’s an either/or situation. If you thought of small content providers, the general consumer will miss this excellent chance at free internet. And vice versa.
So what’s the solution?
If Facebook is ready to offer free internet to millions of Indians, understand that it is not with a charitable motive. It is laying the infrastructure now, so that advertisers from around the world can sell to this new audience. And Facebook will earn in dollars for renting out this advertising space.
My solution: Why can’t the government of India set up this infrastructure instead? Imagine everyone connected with internet. Imagine the flow of information. Imagine the scope of ecommerce and mcommerce that will become available with this one move.