The US Federal Communications Commission’s withdrawal of the net neutrality rules brought about by former president Barack Obama is sure to echo in India. Net neutrality is the universal availability of the information and services on the internet to everyone without discrimination. Every customer has to be assured of the same services at the same speed and quality, subject to the data plan purchased.
Forgoing net neutrality enables internet service providers to prioritize the services of companies which offer good money. Until the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India clarified on net neutrality rules in the country, for instance, telecom service providers such as Airtel and Idea were offering websites and services they preferred to customers free of charge or at lower rates. This led to issues of priority and unhealthy competition. Much like a running race with unfair head starts.
Though leading internet companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook do not back the new decision, telecom companies such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have welcomed the change wholeheartedly. Incidentally, FCC chairman Ajit Pai is a former executive of Verizon. He is a Republican who vouches for free market.
Though they claim to stand for free markets, they view net neutrality as an impediment for economic growth and development. The FCC decision, however, may take years to fruition since it has to survive the tests in courts of law and Congress. Net neutrality still has its advocates.
Facebook had to backtrack from its “Free Basics” plan to offer some services free of cost after it ran into stiff opposition in India. The tech community opposed the plan as inimical to net neutrality.
Though the latest development is in the United States, it is sure to create ripples in India which heavily relies on the US for technology. Though the Indian government and the TRAI are in favor of net neutrality, the country’s information technology sector is inseparably linked to the US businesses.
The fact that the major internet providers are from the United States may affect the way services are offered in India. A lack of net neutrality may affect small players because many Indian companies develop their services and applications on the cloud platform.
The cloud services are controlled by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google. They could give better services to anyone who pays them more, depriving young entrepreneurs in India of precious internet services. Startups may have to pay through their nose if they want internet service providers to propagate their services.
Indian companies which oppose net neutrality expect to cash in on the new development by shifting their internet services to the United States. At the same time, India could attract more entrepreneurs if it ensures net neutrality.
Net neutrality is not dead yet, especially since a majority of Americans still favor the concept and the European Union has a large role to play in any future regime.
(The writer is a TED fellow and the head of the physics department at the Kasaragod Government College)