As consumers, we Indians are fickle and puerile latching on to shiny new objects without thinking twice. I choose to believe that NetNeutrality is the latest such fad. While this might be a serious concern in the developed world, I don’t think that it is such a bad thing for India and other unconnected nations.
For every one of the 600,000 emails that went out to TRAI in favor of NetNeutrality, there are probably ten farmers and rural handymen silently saying “Dude, I’ll take what I get. Let me have it.” Unfortunately this “cause” has been led by people who already have the privilege of internet access and who are capable of sending emails to TRAI voicing their opinions. These are people thinking about creating a level playing field for big and small internet companies. But how does a farmer tell TRAI that he’d rather have the internet for free, albeit a small part of it?
Internet.org went overnight from being a noble cause to a sick corporate manoeuvre. I loved the idea. I like the idea of Airtel Zero too. Imagine being able to provide free weather reports to farmers and fishermen every day. Imagine being able to bank the unbanked through digital means. This is possible through platforms like Internet.org and Airtel Zero. So instead of having paranoid visions of censorship and data access control, let’s take these platforms for what they are – an opportunity to provide internet access to millions of people that need social upliftment.
Do big companies have an unfair advantage? Yes they do. Are startups going to get screwed over? Probably. But given where we are in the social development cycle, the government should care more about providing an opportunity for hundreds of millions of citizens than about equal opportunity to small companies. If Airtel is wise, it will probably give a heavily discounted rate to small internet companies.
You can choose to look at this as a blasphemous violation of the urban internet entitlement, or as an opportunity for the rural internet hungry – I choose the latter. You can choose to look at this as opening the floodgates for censorship, or opening the door for an informed population – I choose the latter.
I hope the government voids the 600,000 emails to TRAI and serves those who have never sent one, while exercising caution to make sure that this doesn’t become a precedent for censorship. Let us make this about NetAccess, not about NetNeutrality.