There has been a lot of debate about Net Neutrality in recent times. We have telcos fighting for their requirements and we have a lot of ordinary folks explaining why it’s important we raise our voice to TRAI to help enforce Net Neutrality.
I think the fundamental root problem is in the Internet/Broadband being treated as a commodity / product. In the modern world, access to the internet is essential not just for work but also for personal requirements. Over time, many standard and essential requirements are being fulfilled over the internet and through private organizations using the internet, be it delivery of groceries and retail products to researching new cures for diseases and ensuring healthcare solutions.
The question for us to ask is not just about Net Neutrality which is about ensuring David doesn’t get crushed by the Goliaths. It’s about ensuring that the Internet is as easily accessible to everyone as say, Electricity, Water, Air and Public transport. One might say, nationalization is not the solution but might be a hindrance. But I am not speaking of Nationalization, as much as marking Internet as an essential utility.
There are 3 major benefits to titling the Internet as a utility –
a) Laws & Rules –
We will have much clearer laws and rules governing usage and distribution. Currently we have exceptional Internet coverage in urban areas and limited /poor coverage in rural areas. Further, private organizations who do distribute the internet have poor systems in place to cover outrages and technical issues. There are also frequent complaints on customer forums on how many of these Internet/Broadband organizations have cheated customers
b) Pricing and Speeds of Internet/ Broadband will improve considerable
Though 3G pricing is fairly competitive, as compared to prices abroad, the regular broadband and internet pricing in India is horrifying as compared to prices and speeds abroad. We seem to consider 50 MB/second as a marvellous speed when countries such as Vietnam and South Korea have speeds 10 times that easily available at much better rates. Prior to fighting the 3G battle, we must ensure wired broadband improves after which we need to improve the infrastructure for 3G . Infrastructure improvement will also be easier if Internet is treated as a utility, rather than a luxury. Public planning can incorporate Internet infrastructure while designing urban growth and redevelopment plans.
c) Making it easier for startups and small businesses –
One of the chief points about the Net Neutrality battle is how an Amazon/Google will be able to lord it over small companies once there are fees attached. It’s a valid point but currently the broadband situation, though tolerable in urban regions has much scope for improvement. With Internet being termed as a utility, access to the internet across India will improve, thus giving many people a chance to start their own businesses and drive the economy further. Rather than a urban centred growth story, this can actually change how India as a economy grows and thrives.