Friday December 15, 2017
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TRAI ruling: green flag to Net Neutralists

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By Prasanto K Roy

On Monday afternoon, India’s telecom regulator finally put to rest the fiery net neutrality debate in India, by ruling against zero rating and differential tariffs.

Zero rating lets Airtel users use Facebook, for instance, free of data levies, while charging for access to other services or websites.

This violates net neutrality, which says there should be no differential pricing — free data for one service, but priced for another — based on the content or websites.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has now forbidden such “discriminatory pricing” by whatever name it may be called.

The watchdog’s ruling is clear and sharp, and a blow to Facebook’s high-stakes Free Basics platform, born as Internet.org, as well as to Airtel Zero and other zero-rating platforms tried out, or planned, by telcos.

The year-long battle between the heavyweights, including telecom giants and Facebook, and a bunch of volunteers under the SaveTheInternet.in banner, was fiery, and seemingly unequal.

Facebook ploughed in an estimated Rs.300 crore into its three-month campaign defending Free Basics. Against it, though, the lone volunteer-activists gradually managed to drum up a great deal of public support.

A spokesman said Facebook was “disappointed with the outcome, but we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings”.

Expectedly, the activists were ecstatic.

“This is a historic outcome,” said Kiran Jonnalagadda, a co-founder of the SaveTheInternet.in movement.

“For the first time, India leads where the US and Europe will follow. Many thanks to TRAI chairman R.S. Sharma for backing such an important ruling as his first major act in office.”

The TRAI ruling got widespread applause, including from tech association Nasscom, which had given a submission supporting net neutrality. Its Internet council chairman Sanjeev Bikhchandani said the ruling would “help address apprehensions of young startups fearing the lack of a level playing field.”

Entrepreneur Arvind Jha of TiE said the collective power of 7,000 startups (whose founders had written to the PMO supporting Net Neutrality) and a dedicated team of volunteers has won over Facebook’s ad blitzkrieg running into hundreds of crores of rupees.

So have David and the good guys vanquished Goliath, ending the battle?

The reality may be more nuanced than that. A battle much bigger than activists versus Facebook is up ahead: Providing Internet access to nearly a billion Indians who are offline, or nominally online, today.

First, the nuances.

Facebook is responsible for a great deal of the Internet penetration in India. Of the 300 million mobile users who make up over 90 percent of India’s internet base, 56 percent use WhatsApp daily, and 51 percent use Facebook, according to a TNS survey released last October.

So, at least, two out of every three Internet users in India use mobile data, purely to use one or the other of Facebook’s apps, including WhatsApp. It would be great to find a net-neutral way to let users access the apps or sites they need to (which may include WhatsApp or Facebook), free, or cheaply.

The Net neutrality movement, and now TRAI, has shot down Free Basics, which would have got Facebook and a few select apps free of data charges to subscribers of one telco (Reliance Communications).

But, TRAI hasn’t yet suggested what alternatives could be used to provide cheap or free Internet access to the hundreds of millions of mobile users who are unable or unwilling to pay for mobile data.

And no! They don’t have access to even wireline broadband.

The watchdog did ask that question in its consultation paper. So we’re all hoping it will yet come up with some workable ideas.

There are several options as well.

For instance, letting the telecom companies offer a certain amount of free data for all, or using apps like Gigato which allow sponsors to top-up data, free, for prepaid users of specific apps: that recharged data can then be used for accessing any website or app.

Then there’s Digital India, which aims to put Wi-Fi into towns and villages, letting smartphone users access the internet free or cheaply.

Former journalist Pierre Fitter puts it well: “Good that all Web content will be treated as equal. Now comes the important bit: making sure everyone can access the Internet.” (IANS)

(Prasanto K. Roy is a senior technology journalist)

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Google gets the better of Facebook as top referral source for publishers

In 2016 Facebook tweaked its algorithm to prioritise posts from friends and family over publishers.

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Google has beaten Facebook to become publishers' main source of external page views over the course of 2017
Google has beaten Facebook to become publishers' main source of external page views over the course of 2017. VOA
  • Google webpage traffic increases considerably
  • Facebook went down by 26% in January as compared to last year
  • Video publishing feature might has add up to the Facebook traffic

San Francisco, Dec 12,2017: Google has beaten Facebook to become publishers’ main source of external page views over the course of 2017, a new data showed.

Google used to be the main source of referral traffic for web publishers. Then Facebook eclipsed it, ReCode reported late on Monday.

According to digital analytics company Parse.ly, Google sent more traffic than Facebook to publishers — Facebook sent 25 per cent less traffic to publishers in 2017, while Google increased its traffic by 17 per cent.

In January, Facebook provided nearly 40 per cent of publishers’ external traffic which is now down to 26 per cent.

Google web traffic
Google AMP feature has helped it to add up to the web traffic

Google, which started the year at 34 per cent, generated 44 per cent of the total traffic.

Parse.ly pointed out a number of factors for this turnaround.

In 2016 Facebook tweaked its algorithm to prioritise posts from friends and family over publishers.

Also, Facebook’s “Instant Articles” feature, where the service hosted some publishers’ content directly but promised to send more readers to the original site as well, has declined in importance, the analytics company found.

Since users can now publish videos directly on Facebook, this might have affected how many links to web stories publishers put on their Facebook pages.

Google’s “accelerated mobile pages” (AMP) feature, which also hosts publishers’ content directly on Google’s servers, became more important over the year.

AMP stories – typically from news publishers – are surfaced at the top of mobile search results as “Top Stories,” which drives clicks. (IANS)

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Facebook Introduces Digital Training and Start-up hubs in India to Promote Digital Economy

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Facebook launched digital training in India
Facebook launched digital training in India.Pixaby.

New Delhi, Nov 23: Facebook on Wednesday introduced its digital training and start-up training hubs in India aimed at helping small businesses and people grow by giving them the digital skills they need to compete in today’s digital economy.

Facebook said it plans to train more than half a million people in the country by 2020 through these online training hubs, which are being rolled out first in India.

The learning curriculum which is personalised to the individual’s needs and available in English and Hindi on mobile, the social network, which is used by 217 million people in India, announced.

“We believe the best way to prepare India for a digital economy is by equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and skills they need to succeed,” said Ritesh Mehta, Head of Programmes, Facebook, India and South Asia.

To develop the learning curriculum, the social network worked with several organisations, including Digital Vidya, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), DharmaLife and the government’s StartupIndia initiative.

The curriculum includes vital skills for digital skill seekers and tech entrepreneurs, including how to protect their ideas, how to hire, how to go about getting funding, what regulations and legal hurdles they need to consider, how to build an online reputation, and a host of other critical skills.

This could mean teaching a small business owner how to create an online presence; helping a non-profit reach new communities and potential donors; or it could mean helping a tech entrepreneur turn their product idea into a startup through practical business advice.

Facebook said its digital training hub would provide free social and content marketing training for anyone – from students to business owners – who is looking to develop their digital knowledge and skills.

According to new research by Morning Consult in partnership with Facebook, small businesses use of digital translates into new jobs and opportunities for communities across the country.

Since 2011 Facebook has invested more than $1 billion to support small businesses globally.

The “Boost Your Business” and “SheMeansBusiness” initiatives have trained more than 60,000 small businesses, including 12,000 women entrepreneurs, in India, Facebook said. (IANS)

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Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter Join The Trust Project to Help Users Combat Fake News

In their bid to combat fake news and help readers identify trustworthy news sources, Facebook, Google, Twitter and several media organisations have joined the non-partisan "The Trust Project"

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To Combat Fake News
To Combat Fake News Facebook, Twitter , Google have joined 'The Trust Project'. PIxabay.

San Francisco, Nov 19: In their bid to combat fake news and help readers identify trustworthy news sources, Facebook, Google, Twitter and several media organisations have joined the non-partisan “The Trust Project”.

“The Trust Project” is led by award-winning journalist Sally Lehrman of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics.

Starting from Friday, an icon will appear next to articles in Facebook News Feed.

When you click on the icon, you can read information on the organisations’ ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work.

“Leading media companies representing dozens of news sites have begun to display ‘Trust Indicators’. These indicators, created by leaders from more than 75 news organisations also show what type of information people are reading a” news, opinion, analysis or advertising,” the university said in a statement.

Each indicator is signalled in the article and site code, providing the first standardised technical language for platforms to learn more from news sites about the quality and expertise behind journalists’ work.

“Google, Facebook, Bing and Twitter have all agreed to use the indicators and are investigating and piloting ideas about how to best to use them to surface and display quality journalism,” the university said.

German press agency DPA, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, the Independent Journal Review, Mic, Italy’s La Republica and La Stampa, Trinity Mirror and The Washington Post are among the companies starting to go live with “Trust Indicators” this month.

The Institute for Non-profit News has developed a WordPress plug-in to facilitate broader implementation by qualified publishers.

“An increasingly sceptical public wants to know the expertise, enterprise and ethics behind a news story. The Trust Indicators put tools into people’s hands, giving them the means to assess whether news comes from a credible source they can depend on,” Lehrman explained.

The eight core indicators are: Best Practices; Author Expertise; Type of Work; Citations and References; Methods; Locally Sourced; Diverse Voices and Actionable Feedback.

New organisations like the BBC and Hearst Television have collaborated in defining the “Trust Indicator” editorial and technical standards, and in developing the processes for implementing these.

“Quality journalism has never been more important,” said Richard Gingras, vice president of news products at Google.

“We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels.”

“The Trust Indicators will provide a new level of accessibility and insight into the news that people on Facebook see day in and day out,” said Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products at Facebook.

A growing number of news outlets are expected to display the indicators over the next six months, with a second phase of news partners beginning implementation work soon. (IANS)