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Basic Necessities

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Yesterday was deadline for posting about Net Neutrality in India. More details on savetheinternet.in and if I remember correctly, this is the third time TRAI is seeking if we should’ve Net Neutrality or not. The major force which wants India should not have Net Neutrality in India is Facebook. First starting with internet.org which it has now beautifully renamed as Free Basics. But what is Net Neutrality & what is our basics?

Net Neutrality is basically what is exists of today. Yes, that means you pay for the internet service and you use anything you want. Be it games, news, entertainment, all you get is constant service. If you are a news person, you can go for a cheap data plan which will offer you less data. And if you are a gamer, you need very fast connection or if an entertainment device user a very high data plan.

As it famously goes, “All work no play, makes Jack a dull boy”. So if the news person thinks of going to a video site all he’ll see is “Buffering” and huge bills for data over use. What if the provider says, you get high-speed or no data charge for using a competitive video hosting site. Naturally, news person will shift to these sites. That’s where the Net Neutrality ends.

  • Differential speeds or data limitation for specific sites
  • Differential pricing for different services
  • Indirectly forcing people to a competitive channel

How does it matter, the news person is getting his dose of entertainment. If most videos are uploaded to the non-free site, means the person is missing on many things and is content with inferior product.

It is no surprise, everyone loves freebies.It makes sense that you use a service and get a return, that is understandable just like banks give interest or credit card companies give reward points. When someone gives something for free, it’s time to read the fine lines with extreme magnifying glass and ultra slow speed.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Why would someone give something for free? Charity or Philanthropy. Charity is just giving while Philanthropy is uplifting. What Facebook is doing is neither of these. It ties up with services and service providers. Essentially Facebook as a service becomes a gatekeeper for other services and service providers and acts as a service provider. Sounds complicated? Facebook has already tied up with Reliance Communications  (RCom) to give free Facebook. Facebook freaks will love to get more of Facebook which means some will jump ships. What about others prices with RCom or even service – will it give same or better service than other players is still unanswered.

Who benefits here? RCom gets users (atleast a nudge higher as compared to now) & Facebook as they’ll get more of your data. What if tomorrow another service comes up which has better features and fewer ads (or annoying games) than Facebook, people will still choose Facebook – simple coz its free. The new service will choke on itself. Facebook is killing competition.

For many people internet is Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube but what if you need to pay premium for them. Many will stop using them and will switch to competitive and cheaper options. Something that has happened to our TV. Gone are days when you would pay one amount and get all channels but now you pay per channel. Any new channel to come up will either have to be free to air (means more ads) or have to be owned by a big company to absorb the costs. Do you want same to happen to your internet?

Lets be honest, what are our basic necessities? Its “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan” (Bread, Clothing & Housing). How does internet became a basic? In a country where literacy level is just 74% (source) but that doesn’t mean 74% of India know English. English is primary form on internet and not all are compatible with regional language.

Literacy, as defined in Census operations, is the ability to read and write with understanding in any language.

Considering, Facebook says it’ll provide basic internet to rural people. This has essentially below flaws:

  • Rural people knowing English to navigate website. Considering, they do convert pages to regional language, the type of phone.
  • Basic java phone works brilliantly on 2G too. Why would someone pay additional budget over internet when we’ve people available locally who know – for free. Basically do they know what is internet?
  • Android phone. Woah! If they use a smart phone and aware it needs data and they use it, then I’m sure they don’t need free data too. Apple iPhone? I think we got a wrong data set here
  • Final quest. Connectivity. How reliable is connection? In cities where 4G struggles, 3G crawls and 2G dies will Facebook put up own towers?

If Facebook really cares, it should join hands with Google for Project Loon or may be push their own research. A company whose business is to use your data and sell your data to advertisers and advertise is giving away free internet? Anything you do on internet.org or Free Basics will give your data to Facebook. More data, more insight, more specific ads. I hope now you get it, they were using your data and making money and now suddenly their conscience called and they though to make it official BUT now they want all alone.

I feel, Facebook is not alone. It has some brilliant lobbying around. Billions of people use Facebook and many click links blindly, means many would’ve loved Free Basics without knowing the above. Facebook can dictate what happens in India (or what we consume) while sitting in US. It has changed its wordings to fool people already (internet.org to Free Basics). TRAI has sought our opinion third time.

Sample this: It happened first time, everyone got up and raise their voice. Facebook lobby failed to get internet.org. They tried again. This time lobby succeeded but sane heads in TRAI followed public opinion. Again people stood up, this time less than initial lot. Facebook lobbied harder. Succeeded again and another user opinion. Facebook chose confusing words like used in our Constitution. More and more ads on TV, more notification on Facebook mobile & web. Don’t know how many clicked and how many mailed this time. Don’t know if there will be another time and even don’t know will Net Neutrality be in India.

If Facebook lobby wins, India will be a country where a foreign service provider will dictate the National rules. Imagine some Indian company doing same in US. Basic necessities will forever be “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan”


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