Net Neutrality Sandwiched Between Hefty Mobile Bills And Bad Network – Where’s The ‘Connection’?

Each month, I am literally attacked by my mobile bill! I am not kidding. Shedding almost two grand per month only on mobile phone is a big dent on one’s pocket.

Until a year back, I was using a Blackberry, with an Airtel connection, paying a monthly bill of Rs. 600/- to Rs. 700/-. Before that, I was using a Nokia E72 with the same connection and paying monthly bill as low as Rs. 300/- to Rs. 400/-. When I switched phones, I had to bear an additional cost of Rs. 300/- or Rs. 400/- per month for using Blackberry Messenger (BBM) services FORECFULLY, without which I would not have been able to get connected to the Internet. So in the garb of providing FREE messenger services (I still don’t understand what the free element was), my Internet Service Provider duped me with escalated bill for usage of internet services. A year back, when I switched to an iPhone with a 3G connection, I realised what it means to actually bear a hefty mobile phone bill – the costs rocketed to triple the previous amount.

And now, Airtel has come up with a new 4G challenge, claiming it to be the fastest network ever. The amount of money they are charging for providing such services, is nowhere near affordable for students who survive on pocket money!

The term ‘Bandwidth Throttling’ is important for understanding this phenomenon. It is employed by service providers as a strategy to slow down internet services. Internet Throttling is adopted to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion, but it seems the internet service providers deliberately resort to these techniques in order to make people switch to so called latest generation fastest internet services. What market strategy! Unfortunately, the Information Technology Act, 2000  (an Act to provide legal recognition for transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication, commonly referred to as “electronic commerce”) does not cast bar on companies from throttling their service for their business interests.

Airtel is just one example, other service providers follow suit and provide internet services at fairly high prices. However, despite skyrocketing prices, services are quite a disappointment. I stay in Moti Bagh and work in Connaught Place, Delhi and I literally have spots earmarked at both my home and office, where the signals are worth applause, where I can make calls without any disruption or them getting dropped. It’s funny yet true. Sitting in the capital city of our country and facing network issues is ironically amusing. And needless to say, all of this is with hefty payment of bills that I make. I wonder what it would be like in rural and remote areas of our country!

Internet has already made its place in India. An open and free internet is an essential to today’s generation. It is an absolute condition for growth, development, and I would say survival, to a great extent. We are 24X7 connected to the internet and almost everybody is connected to everybody through wire without wire! This is not just a way of connectivity between people but a major boost to economy by providing platform where business meets business and consumers meet consumers from all across the globe. Anything, literally anything we need is just a click away. The national objectives of ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ are definitely not achievable without open internet.

Despite such dependence on Internet today, there is yet no specific law in India regulating internet services which could provide for a level playing field to all internet service providers. It has been made known that due to intense manipulation and lobbying by telecom operators like Airtel and Vodafone, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is planning to allow them to block apps and websites. This would lead to nothing but more extraction of money from poor consumers.

This is exactly the reason why there is a huge cry about Net Neutrality in India. Net Neutrality entails maintaining the Internet as an open platform, where network providers give equal treatment to all content, applications and services, without any biasness. Often the Internet Service Providers act as gatekeepers monitoring the load of websites, charging different rates to different websites. This creates lot of monopoly and whoever is able to bear the cost wins a place, leaving behind others who have the potential to make a difference in our lives, but fail to do so, due to lack of funds. Small business owners, start-ups, entrepreneurs, who have entered the market with an aim to make a difference, live their dreams, cannot be able to even climb one step due to such practises.

In India, TRAI has been established as an independent regulatory body, with an aim to regulate telecommunication services and to protect the interest of service providers and consumers and to ensure orderly growth of telecom sector. It is the need of the hour to establish or empower such body for regulating the internet services and to provide level playing field to all service providers in order to save the internet and ensure smooth growth in our country.

In US, recently, after lot of deliberations, the Federal Communications Commission (an American government regulatory agency, responsible for overseeing all interstate and international communications) has voted in favour of a strong Net Neutrality rule to keep the internet open and free to all. If such developed country like U.S. can accept the need of free and open internet and work towards saving the Internet, why can’t India do so?

India needs to walk fast in order to ensure that it is not left behind. Already it is way behind many countries in many aspects. Now is the generation of educated youth, who would not settle for anything less than development. We want change and we rise for change.

Although right to internet is not a fundamental right, but right to communication certainly is. And Net Neutrality is the right to communicate freely online. This definitely becomes need of the hour and the change for the hour!

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