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Net warriors

For many years residents of Delhi had to take the long winding route from Sarai Kale Khan to Mayur Vihar, in order to reach Noida. Given the heavy flow of traffic on this route, it caused regular traffic jams. It was not very unusual to see scores and scores of vehicles stuck on the Nizamuddin Bridge in a never ending traffic jam. Then suddenly one day a toll road called the DND flyway opened and lo beholds a caste system was quickly established amongst those travelling to Noida. Those who could afford the steep twenty odd rupees one-way toll could use the fast and uncongested flyway; those who could not or did not want to pay the toll could go through hours stuck in a traffic jam which seemed to be as old as the Universe itself. This analogy explains succinctly what the Indian telecom companies are trying to do. By trying to create ‘fast and dedicated’ lanes for certain kinds of traffic on the web, these telecom majors are seeking to create a new-age caste system on the internet: those who can pay for high-speed access and those who can’t. Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, with internet service provides not being allowed to decide if one can access certain types of data faster or cheaper than others.

This covert lobbying attempt by Indian telcos understandably created a lot of outrage amongst netizens. Such was the intensity of protest by the collective internet community of India, that the government had to go on record and state that it backed an open Internet: Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the common man should be able to access the internet without discrimination and declared that the final decision on the controversial net neutrality issue will be taken by the telecom department and not the regulator. The campaign to retain net neutrality in India received a much needed fillip when Flipkart, India’s homegrown e-commerce giant, walked away from negotiations with Airtel. Flipkart’s decision came after hundreds of thousands of people online rallied behind the idea of net neutrality and carried out a campaign against the e-tailer for its stance that was seen to violate the principles of an open, free internet.

With Flipkart casting its vote in favour of net-neutrality and lakhs of netizens stating unequivocally that net-neutrality must remain, it’s essential that TRAI pays heed. After all no commuter likes being stuck in a traffic jam, especially when his well to do neighbour is cruising in a carefree manner on a paid highway. Toll taxes are for roads, not for the internet. In addition, the leading telecom company, which is behind the anti-net neutrality push, made a net profit of 14.37 billion rupees ($232 million) in the final three months of 2014. Instead of irrevocably changing how the common Indian accesses the Internet, TRAI must first address fundamental concerns surrounding mobile connectivity.

Customers have recently borne the brunt of call drops and unreachability, among other problems, while communicating on mobile phones. This is because telecom companies have not invested in the requisite infrastructure, despite taking in a large number of customers. TRAI could do a lot worse than advice telecom companies to invest more into their existing infrastructure.
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