The Net Neutrality debate: Paytm and FoodPanda co-founders elaborate

Updated: April 28, 2015 12:23 PM

Foodpanda's Rohit Chadda on Net Neutrality: The simple solution could have been limited free data usage to ensure that those who can’t afford to buy data can explore the realms of the internet.

Net neutrality, Net neutrality India, Net neutrality news, Nasscom, Internet, internet freedom, internet violations, freedom of speech and expression, R ChandrashekharPaytm co-founder VS Sharma: Splitting the internet between the rich and the poor means sounding the death knell for mobile internet commerce; Foodpanda’s Rohit Chadda: The simple solution could have been limited free data usage to ensure that those who can’t afford to buy data can explore the realms of the internet.

Net Neutrality: (I) Bid goodbye to the digital India dream

A few years ago, India’s mobile internet was just an opportunity for everyone. Whether it was telecom operators or start-ups, everyone was planning their next billion-dollar move based on the hundreds of millions of new users expected to get on the mobile internet.

Once it started happening, we saw one type of company—telecom operators— feeling left out. No, users were paying and their data revenues were growing. It was just that they could not really understand why these mobile internet companies which gave all kind of services to mobile consumer were valued so high.

Telcos always had been labeled as “pipes”—a pipe through which data flows and which a user accesses and pays to get on the internet. The business model was simple but no telco wanted to remain just a pipe. So, some of them started offering services such as payments, music and more on top of their network access. And that’s when things got interesting. For the first time, India is seeing technology companies serving Indian consumers and that too at such a massive scale. They are investing insane amounts of money in their businesses. Obviously, telcos want their share of this money being invested.

So they offered to create their version of internet; a sort of restricted private net where a subscriber gets to use select services for free and pay for others. The pitch they make is that the toll free internet is similar to the toll free 1-800 phone numbers which companies can buy. The truth, however, is that while you can call a toll free number, you can also call non-toll free numbers. Except in this case “toll free data” is all you get. You don’t get access to the rest of internet but only these selected toll free apps/ services.

The internet is split.

And this is labeled as the internet for the poor. The poor man’s internet.

They label this as an “open marketing platform”, and thus open to all. (I do not know which commercial company says: Only select users are welcome.)
We’ve seen it all in the past. Truth is that only select companies will be able to get through the process.

So from providing equal and free internet, we will now have two internets, one that some can access (without ability to access the rest of internet) and another which all others access. The best I can say is that everyone will be equal except some will be more equal than the others.

Before I close, there’s the other matter of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) consultation paper also asking if Trai should regulate the app companies and ask them to register themselves and seek its approval before they offer their services to the Indian mobile user. Just imagine a world where you would not be able to use Google, Facebook or WhatsApp just because they didn’t get government/ telco approvals! Let’s bid goodbye to that ‘Digital India’ dream.

Yes, in 2015, we are being asked this question; a year when we are being shown the Make-in-India dream, of remaining and serving in India.

I hope we never see this travesty happening; of the internet being divided between the rich and the poor; and then playing politics on what the poor man’s internet should include. We poor Indians have seen it all before!

By Vijay Shekhar Sharma

The author is founder of One97 Communications and Paytm

Net Neutrality: (II) A business deal in disguise

I believe we belong to a very fortunate generation of mankind. A generation that has witnessed and, better still, experienced evolution—of technology, of how we search for and access information. Millions of terabytes of data are today accessible through a small device in our pocket called the smartphone. Internet has changed the way we live—the way we communicate, travel, shop, eat and even sleep (yes, there are apps for that!).

In such a scenario, when a large mobile network operator talks about differential pricing for some special websites over others by giving users free access to them, it obviously makes one wonder about the pros and cons of it and whether it is genuinely an attempt towards universal connectivity or just a good business deal.

Fundamentally, providing free internet services through particular websites where those websites are funding the cost of data is no different than a toll-free 1800 number used by many customer focused businesses where the business pays for the call from the customer. However, concerns start coming in when we consider the various ways this can adversely affect user experience for the rest of the websites with the lack of transparency in the system; from differential speed to the risk of current free platforms getting converted to paid ones. Thus, driving the value driven Indian customer towards particular websites and isolating the smaller players who cannot afford to pay huge sums to get onto such platforms.

Interestingly, internet service providers (ISP) claim to be doing this for the sake of the nation – to connect the unconnected or, as they say, to provide universal connectivity. I read a touching story of one of internet’s million dollar babies visiting Chandauli, a small village in India and the empowerment that came to the students from being introduced to the internet.

While everyone will agree and appreciate the benefits of increased connectivity and free internet for all those who don’t have access, the execution of the idea is inherently flawed because of multiple reasons. Since these services are ISP specific, you can’t use the services if you use a different ISP. If you start using this ISP and wish to change your service provider for bad service or any such issue, you can’t since the facility is only available on the particular provider. If you want to explore websites outside this service, you can’t. Essentially, the uninformed user is being made to believe that internet essentially is all about these handful of websites and there is nothing much they need to know or explore beyond these websites.

If one were truly working towards universal connectivity or this activity was as social an exercise as the stakeholders want it to seem, the simple solution could have been limited free data usage to ensure that even those who can’t afford to spend on data, can explore the realms of the internet rather than confining their free usage to the chosen few.

With only 200 million internet users, India has a long way to go when it comes to getting people online and it becomes extremely important that it is done right. All in all this just seems to be a good business deal masked under the guise of universal connectivity.

By Rohit Chadda

The author is co-founder and MD, Foodpanda

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