TRAI Me A River

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recently placed the debate of net neutrality into the public forum of discussion, albeit reluctantly. Around the world, the debate of net neutrality is being vociferously argued. Should we be wary in seeking net neutrality, lest we neuter the net?

The Internet is argued to be a utility, a resource and like in many models of economics there is a scarcity of the resource. As Internet bloggers and users, we love our freedom on the Internet, but we do drift towards abusing it. We do watch television shows online or allegedly illegal Roasts. The issue is that the usage of the Internet as a resource requires heavy investments into infrastructure. This is a tug of war between content providers and the providers of infrastructure. Truth be told, they need each other. In an open market, with a model of sharing revenue streams between all players, a healthy competitive market can be created. This could boost an economy where every rung in the chain shares in the wealth created.

The fear is that this can then be used to control my existing unfettered freedom. Unfortunately, this costs money. Whatsapp and Youtube are able to provide the quality of service that they do because of the number of dedicated servers to their company. When we exclaim that the Internet is free and open, it truly is and the number of people fighting for spots already exists. In order to appear in the top searches of Google, it costs money. Currently, the reason the news is able to flash across your screens is because advertising money is being spent so as to pay for the infrastructure delivering it to your screens.

This is not a political issue nor is it one about our constitutional rights or, as we tend to forget, our constitutional duties. This is actually a socio-economic problem that can be tackled if we choose to look at it that way. Consumer rights in the usage of the Internet and equal access to websites are socially required so as to prevent censure of the Internet. While on the flipside, we create an economic model that keeps the Internet affordable, while the revenues generated are shared both by content providers as well the telcos.

I sent an email to TRAI answering their 20 questions in defense of net neutrality. The answers provided to me, were painstakingly detailed by I did this not because I completely buy the argument in favour of net neutrality, but this is a discussion that deserves traction and our attention. This is truly a question about money. Someone needs to spend money so that we can get the quality of Interent that we crave for. The current payment mechanism although brilliant for an end user, has become obsolete. We were supposed to be sending text messages, reading emails and calling people. Now we watch, edit and send videos, photos and audio messages. The patterns in our consumption have changed so we cannot expect the payment mechanism to remain the same. But our genuine concerns of democratic principles being affected needs to be addressed. I’ve said before that I have no arrogance in my ignorance to dictate an answer.

It has been wisely said that if trees could provide wifi we would plant more of them sadly they only provide oxygen. We are hyper sensitive to our dependency on the Internet and the crucial part is that planting a tree is free. We don’t think about that when it comes to the environment though. We understand that for development a certain amount of trees need to be felled.

But there are sections of our society firmly standing up to fight this. Thereby creating a balance between progress and preservation.

The same thing needs to be done for net neutrality. We need to want for progress with changes in policy, which can really stem growth whilst we ensure that the growth doesn’t come at a cost too high resulting in an abuse of the process. Look at how the App Store functions for instance. An open market, with perfect competition priced at nothing, low or affordable whlist promoting innovation and invention and rewarding every cog in the delivery mechanism.

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