Category Archives: convergence

NetNeutrality: The Wrong Perspective

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.

iPhatuation

Nokia asks its employees to be honest and forthcoming in their work-related social communications, so let me begin from there.

I have been a part of Nokia for three exciting years, during the course of which I was thoroughly enamored by its consumer offerings, its culture and most importantly its intent for social good.

Before I joined Nokia, I had never used one of their products, neither their paper and rubber, which were well before my time, nor their mobile phones. I had, instead, had the mixed fortune of using an iPhone, a MotoRAZR, an HTC Touch (which I returned in 2 days because the phone supported only French and not English), a Sony Ericsson T-something which did not deserve to be remembered, and a Samsung clamshell that I stole from my mom because it had a spectacular monthly plan.

Frankly, I never put much thought into the mobile I owned – until I had to do it for a living. It came to me as a surprise that mobile phones overtook shoes as the most prominent symbol of economic stature in Africa a couple of years ago. If forced to comment on my past phones, the most I can say is that the MotoRAZR had a funky ringtone, and that the Samsung flip-phone did not break when I accidentally dropped it from the second floor. However, I do retain a strong opinion about the iPhone. And before getting into this any further, I should assert that this is strictly a personal opinion driven by personal circumstances.

In early 2008, the iPhone was the zeitgeist gadget. It still is, but was much more so back then. My affluent cousin mentioned that he had one lying around somewhere because he did not care for it and I eagerly volunteered to relieve him of the burden. I prepped my housemates for two weeks, losing no occasion to remind them that I was soon going to have an iPhone – Home of iTunes, Mother of touchscreens.This was going to be the greatest and most portable music experience ever, and I couldn’t wait for it to begin. The day finally arrived, the iPhone came along and I honeymooned with it for the first couple of days. This was the future. A touchscreen in my hand!

A few days had gone by. I was now texting friends that I never did before because it was an opportunity for me to get more of the touch experience. The alarm clock was so much cooler than my drab Samsung alarm, I would actually wake up in time for class. Multiple homescreens – I got a high from just flipping through them and knowing there was so much I could do with this phone! This cannot be in the same league as the RAZR. This isn’t a phone. This is a smartphone!

And then there was the flip side which I chose to ignore. I tried twice unsuccessfully to get myself onto iTunes, but it was too complicated to figure out. The backside of the phone made an annoying sound when I slid it on the table. The camera click was loud, but the picture quality was poor – analogous to barking dogs never biting. Maps were an illusion because I could never afford to load them on a prepaid SIM card. And yet I loved it. I loved the iDEA of the iPhone.

Good things don’t last forever. In true tragic fashion, my e-topia came to a crashing demise. My housemate, fed up of my preening, challenged me to a music duel. We both had to play the same song on each phone (he had a petty Sony Ericsson) and the louder, clearer speaker would be the disambiguated winner. I thought this was a fair duel because to me the iPhone was largely a music phone. Fifteen minutes later we had picked the song. He tried Bluetoothing the song to me, but since the iPhone does not support popular technology, we had to transfer it to his computer and then to my phone. The taxi driver was to be the referee, and he would be subjected to a blind test by not identifying the device that the music was coming from. As you probably guessed by now, the crappy Sony Ericsson won. Hands down! There was absolutely no comparison between the crystal-clear $150 Sony Ericsson speaker and the $600 iPhone one.

Woe-struck, I plunged myself into sorrow and contemplation. So the iPhone wasn’t invincible. All the misdemeanors that I had previously forgiven now came to the forefront – the poor connectivity, the inaudible calls, the overheating battery, the thousands of unused features, and the unfriendly iTunes. The humiliating defeat at the hands of an unassuming Sony Ericsson gave me perspective. I didn’t love the iPhone. Hell, I didn’t need even half an iPhone. All I sought was the idea of it. It was time to swallow hard and recognize the beginning of the end.