By Harshmeet Singh
Of the few remaining things in the world that do not discriminate among people, Internet occupies the top spot. Net neutrality lies at the very framework of the Internet. In raw terms, net neutrality simply means that all your websites or data would be treated equally by the ISP, without giving any special preference to a particular website or service.
What’s the harm in taking away net neutrality?
Imagine a scenario where your internet data pack is only applicable to a few websites, and you are required to shell out an extra amount for the data consumed on YouTube and Skype. As absurd as it may seem, this is what some major companies are vouching for.
Forms of net neutrality in developed nations
In most of the developed nations, where internet speeds are considerably higher and consistent, net neutrality is about all the websites and apps being equally accessible, without any special treatment being given to anyone. The opposition to net neutrality is backed up by a number billion dollar companies who can afford to pay the ISPs to ‘fast-track’ their websites in comparison to their competitors. For instance, only those shopping websites would be given the ‘fast lane’ by the ISP which have paid an extra fee. While all the other competitors would be pushed towards ‘slow lane’. This could lead to market monopoly and shrinking of options for the customers.
Net neutrality in India
In countries like India, where internet speeds are comparatively slower, there are no ‘fast lanes’ as such. Here, net neutrality takes the form of extra charges for select services. For instance, in December last year, Airtel floated a plan to charge extra for Viber and Skype calls, refusing to accommodate the data usage from these apps into the usual data packs. After facing strong reactions from the consumers as well as the Government authorities, Airtel decided to defer its plans. Surprisingly, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) is yet to frame any laws against violation of net neutrality.
Who’s supporting it anyway?
It isn’t difficult to decipher who would be the biggest gainer if net neutrality is taken away. The major ISPs, such as AT & T are pulling together all their resources to trash net neutrality. Why? Because they stand a chance to earn a fortune after the demise of net neutrality! The big ISPs would be treated with millions of dollars from the companies to fast-track their apps and websites.
The major online companies, who have the capacity of shelling out money to kill the competition from newer competitors, also favour the campaign against net neutrality. It would give them a set platform to make good use of their money power and gain monopoly in the market.
Whose idea is it though?
The Chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, first came out with an idea of trashing net neutrality and giving internet into the hands of major ISPs such as Verizon and AT & T. After strong nation-wide protest across the US, the FCC, in February 2015, upheld net neutrality, with Wheeler saying “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept.”