Opinion

Keep it neutral

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on December 21, 2017 Published on December 29, 2014

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Service providers should treat all network traffic equally

Even though Bharti Airtel has tentatively rolled back its plan to introduce exorbitantly high rates for internet-based calls, the debate on whether internet providers can tamper with net neutrality rages on. Net neutrality means web service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally; they must not block or slow down access to any website or content to benefit their own services. Most companies try to follow it, and most regulators make sure companies do. In November, US President Barack Obama said, “An open internet is essential to the US economy, and increasingly to our very way of life.” He even asked the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that phone and cable companies will not act as a gatekeeper, restricting “what you can do or see online”.

That’s exactly what Airtel did when it announced that it would charge higher rates to services based on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). This includes video calls over Skype and covers chat services on apps such as Viber or WhatsApp. The move triggered protests and activists say Airtel wants to protect its long-distance voice-call services and the vanishing SMS segment. Granted, services such as Skype have made long-distance calls cheaper and easier, while chat services such as WhatsApp have made the practice of SMS-ing virtually nonexistent, but that doesn’t mean you torpedo them at the consumer’s expense.

One of the most interesting aspects of the free market is that disruptive, cost-effective and competent technologies or services will edge out outdated and emaciated services. In an era when high-speed video and audio content has the potential to transform the way people work, shop, live and teach, the move to charge higher rates for such traffic is anachronistic. The sooner internet services providers such as Airtel understand this, the better. And what telecom regulator Trai and the government should do immediately is to frame new rules to ensure companies do not undermine the principle of net neutrality.

Assistant Editor

Published on December 29, 2014
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