Demystifying Net Neutrality

Everyone’s talking about Net Neutrality. Typically a principle that dictates that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments should treat data packets on the internet equally, Net Neutrality is a campaign that seeks to question the discriminatory rate regime that is being imposed on the data packets that one accesses using the internet. The point is that there should be no discrimination on grounds of content, destination, source or provider.

With the advent of different Over the Top (OTT) avenues such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, WeChat, Hike and the social network getting onto smart phones, the conventional route of using a phone lies forgotten at best. Text messages are no longer a regular route of conversation – and slowly, calls using a phone number are becoming less preferred in comparison with services of the OTT avenues. Thanks to this, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is alarmed: a huge chunk of their one-time revenue is now in absentia.

This led them to decide that they would charge an additional amount of money each month, to use these services on your smart phones and tablets. A smart phone or tablet connection user is able to call and send and receive text messages using the OTT applications and pay for the data charges alone. But, given that these applications have diverted what once used to be a massive revenue avenue for the telecom operators, and that these OTT applications have not invested in the networks, they want to charge customers extra. The Telecom Service Providers say that the OTTs are built on the logistics and infrastructures that they set up, and this is done without the OTTs investing in them. This earns them money, and also competes with the traditional services of calling and texting, which the Telecom Service Providers offer.

Flip the coin: and the OTT applications demand Net Neutrality. They say that there should be absolutely no discrimination of the data packets that are used on the internet. They argue that irrespective of whether you choose to see a video or send a friend a voice note, or you make a call on Viber, or indulge in some FaceTime on your iPhone, a customer should not be charged for anything more than the bare data charges.

If you are the average smart phone type of person, what does this mean for you? If the ISPs and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India win this, it is possible that they will charge you exorbitant rates for certain kinds of services on your smart phone and tablets. This might mean that you would pay a bit more for watching videos on your phone, or video chatting on your phone. We think this might just change the face of the Internet and its life on mobile devices. The ISPs will perhaps then try to fast lane some services, which means that some may gain preference over the other.

If you are a marketer and embrace the constant change brought on by the digital era and mobiles, this may need you to further recalibrate your online marketing efforts. Forward thinking brands are all using the Internet as an alternate channel to promote themselves – Could the lack of Net Neutrality dampen this? We think that is likely in the immediate aftermath. What goes viral on internet is often driven via mobile devices – videos, podcasts, .gifs, blogs and much more. If the common man is forced to pay high rates for the OTT applications, he is bound to have to choose from a list – and chances are that he may dispense with tools that come second to the content marketing avenues. In the US, the ISPs tried to hold content-driven companies at ransom with a similar course of action – but it didn’t work. In India, this is what the petitions and awareness drives are about. Trying to retain Net Neutrality is a key step to retaining current cost structures for mobile services. Without Net Neutrality, the cost element of such OTT avenues for brands will need to be seen, counted and then evaluated.

What do you think about Net Neutrality? As a mobile user or as a marketer – how do you see this affecting your life? Tell us here with your comments or mail in to inception@inception.net.in

Here’s an Infographic to help you understand the basics!

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About the Author
Kirthi is a Lawyer by education, but a writer by choice. She writes content for us, and divides her time between daydreaming about lunch time and actually writing. Kirthi is known to randomly burst into song. If you find a near-six-footer singing “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music” in the middle of Mylapore, you can be sure it is Kirthi. Mail her at kirthi@inception.net.in 

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