As Internet service providers in India push to make more money from their networks, for young businesses it has become more important than ever to have a level-playing field in order to survive and thrive.
Ensuring network neutrality, the notion that all Internet traffic should be treated as equal by service providers, is critical for the country’s nascent Internet ecosystem, said Internet company executives. Not doing so could have seriously deleterious consequences, according to the them.
“We have to avoid breaking net neutrality. Otherwise it will hurt entrepreneurship and lead to very bad effects down the line,” said Amod Malviya, chief technology officer of online retailer Flipkart.
Indeed, for a new breed of startups that are banking on India’s fledgling Internet infrastructure, a neutral platform becomes necessary to be able to compete effectively.
“Competition can fight it out but the platforms must be neutral,” said Aprameya Radhakrishna, founder and director at TaxiForSure, a startup in the online cab rental space. While carriers could have separate enterprise offerings, they should not differentiate in the quality of service for “any kind of consumer traffic,” Malviya said. “Bigger companies will always be able to shell out more money if it comes down to that and smaller companies will suffer,” he said.
BG Mahesh, the founder of online publisher Oneindia.com, said: “If there is no net neutrality, the downside would be for small-time bloggers, startups cannot compete with the biggies.” To be sure, Mahesh doesn’t see the possibility of the network being regulated in the country currently. “But we may see a hybrid approach of minimum service guaranteed with neutrality to all traffic. Above that minimum threshold there could be freedom to providers to charge,” he said.
As consumers use more and more data-based services, network operators have been striking up revenue-sharing deals with such service providers. Currently in India, networks do not differentiate between the traffic that flows on their networks to provide different quality levels of service. However, zero rating, or the practice of striking deals with Internet companies such as Facebook, Yahoo or Google to provide free access to their services, has become common. This is a problem for competing companies as it makes it tougher for them to reach users, experts said.
“Walled gardens and zero rating are also against network neutrality,” said Prasanth Sugathan, counsel at Software Freedom Law Center. A common argument advanced by Internet service providers that goes against network neutrality is that it becomes tougher for them to invest in network expansion if they aren’t allowed to make the most of their existing networks. “But consumers are already paying for the data. As data usage goes up, they get paid more,” said Malviya.
As telecommunications and information technology converges, regulation has become increasingly tougher. India’s telecom regulator has currently adopted a wait-and-watch approach, saying that it is too early to talk about regulating the networks.
“It will be difficult for policy makers to do much about this,” said Giri Hallur, assistant professor at Symbiosis Institute Of Telecom Management. Even if the regulator prohibits telecom operators from monitoring traffic, it’s hard to verify compliance. “They can easily get away under the pretext of network monitoring for ensuring better quality of service,” said Hallur. Better regulation will need coordination between the competition and telecom regulators, he added. Some content creators, however, are also wary of government regulation on the Internet.
“As a consumer, if I am prepared to pay for quality of service, the service provider should be free to guarantee that quality of service to me,” said Shashi Shekhar, CEO, Niti Digital. “Why should everyone suffer equally bad quality of service because of net neutrality? That is socialism on the Internet.
Source: Economic times