[discuss] Access at the cost of Net neutrality?

willi uebelherr willi.uebelherr at riseup.net
Sat Oct 10 14:34:50 UTC 2015

Dear friends,

this mail i received on the [governance] list. But, i think, it is a 
general question.

Based on the transport mechanism, and only of that, Net neutrality means 
the neutrality of transport. This is possible, because we never look 
inside the data. Who is the sender, who the receiver, what protocol is used.

But we have two different transport types. Asynchron and synchron. The 
mostly, what we use, is asynchron. We have no time restriction.

Synchron means, that we have some time restriction and we have to follow 
it. But we know, the synchron packets are mostly very small.

And in the synchron packet stream, we have only one with the highest 
priority: The emergency call of people. Never any packets from state 
institutions, military and paramilitary organisations, private 
organisation and so on. Only packets, to inform people that other people 
need our help.

This principles comes from the real processing of transport of digital 
data in packet form. It have nothing to do with, what people speak 
about, they sit in any office or meetings and speak about.

I do not understand, why Guru speak about "Inetnet.org" or similar 
things. It is not our theme. Our themes are, to organize a InterNet, 
that is really a InterNet. We always see only fog clouds. And i ask you: 

many greetings, willi
Georgetown, Guyana (brit. Guiana)

-------- Weitergeleitete Nachricht --------
Betreff: [governance] Access at the cost of Net neutrality?
Datum: Thu, 8 Oct 2015 08:43:44 +0530
Von: Guru <Guru at ITforChange.net>
An: governance <governance at lists.igcaucus.org>, forum at justnetcoalition.org

Suhrith Parthasarathy

In the Net neutrality debate, there is a conflict between two core
values: ease of access and neutrality. The ease of access promised by
applications like Free Basics compromises neutrality and may later morph 
into a method of predatory pricingIf programs that bring access to a 
part of the Internet in the immediate future were to entrench
themselves, it could eventually lead to telecom companies abusing their
dominant positionsIn the absence of a specific law mandating a neutral
Internet, telecom companies enjoy a virtual carte blanche to
discriminate between different applications. Though they have not yet
exploited this autonomy fully, they are certainly moving towards that.

Earlier this year, the social media giant, Facebook, formalised a

with Reliance Communications that enabled the Indian company to provide
access to over 30 different websites, without any charge on mobile data
accruing to the ultimate user. The platform, originally known as
“Internet.org,” has now been rebranded

as “Free Basics,” Facebook announced last month. Its fundamental ethos,
though, remains unchanged. It allows Reliance’s subscribers to surf
completely free of cost a bouquet of websites covered within the scheme, 
which includes, quite naturally, facebook.com <http://facebook.com>. 
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, views this supposed initiative as a 
philanthropic gesture, as part of a purported, larger aim to bring 
access to the Internet to those people who find the costs of using 
generally available mobile data prohibitive.

*Neutrality, an interpretive concept*

On the face of it, this supposed act of altruism appears to be
commendable. But, there are many critics — some of whom have come
together to launch a website “savetheinternet.in
<http://savetheinternet.in>” with a view to defending Internet freedom — 
who argue that Free Basics violates what has come to be known as the
principle of network (or Net) neutrality.

While it is clear to all of us that a notion of Net neutrality involves
some regulation of the Internet, it is less clear what the term actually 
means. Like any phrase that involves either a moral or a legal
obligation, Net neutrality is also an interpretive concept. People who
employ the term to denote some sort of binding commitment, or at the
least an aspirational norm, often tend to disagree over precisely how
the idea ought to be accomplished. Tim Wu — an American lawyer and
presently a professor at the Columbia University — who coined the term,
views the notion of Net neutrality as signifying an Internet that does
not favour any one application over another. In other words, the idea is 
to ensure that Internet service providers do not discriminate content by 
either charging a fee for acting as its carrier or by incorporating any 
technical qualifications.

In India, there is no law that expressly mandates the maintenance of a
neutral Internet. This March, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
(TRAI) released a draft consultation paper

the public’s views on whether the Internet needed regulation.
Unfortunately, much of its attention was focussed on the supposedly
pernicious impact

applications such as WhatsApp and Viber. “In a multi-ethnic society
there is a vital need,” wrote TRAI, “to ensure that the social
equilibrium is not impacted adversely by communications that inflame
passions, disturb law and order and lead to sectarian disputes.” The
questions, therefore, in its view were these: should at least some
Internet applications be amenable to a greater regulation, and should
they compensate the telecom service providers in addition to the data
charges that the consumers pay directly for the use of mobile Internet?

If the government eventually answers these questions in the affirmative, 
the consequences could be drastic. It could lead to a classification of 
Internet applications based on arbitrary grounds, by bringing some of 
them, whom the government views as harmful to society in some manner or 
another, within its regulatory net. Through such a move, the state, 
contrary to helping establish principles of Net neutrality as a rule of 
law, would be actively promoting an unequal Internet.

In any event, as things stand, in the absence of a specific law
mandating a neutral Internet, telecom companies enjoy a virtual /carte
blanche/ to discriminate between different applications. Though these
companies have not yet completely exploited this autonomy, they are
certainly proceeding towards such an exercise. In April this year,
Airtel announced Airtel Zero

an initiative that would allow applications to purchase data from Airtel 
in exchange for the telecom company offering them to consumers free of cost.

On the face of it, this programme appears opposed to Net neutrality. But 
what is even more alarming is that mobile Internet service providers 
could, in the future, plausibly also control the speeds at which 
different applications are delivered to consumers. For example, if 
WhatsApp were to subscribe to Airtel Zero by paying the fee demanded by 
the company, Airtel might accede to offering WhatsApp to consumers at a 
pace superior to that at which other applications are run. This kind of 
discrimination, as Nikhil Pahwa, one of the pioneers of the Save The 
Internet campaign, has argued, is prototypically opposed to Net 
neutrality. It tends to breed an unequal playing field, and, if allowed 
to subsist, it could create a deep division in the online world. 
Ultimately, we must view Net neutrality as a concept that stands for the 
values that we want to build as a society; it pertains to concerns about 
ensuring freedom of expression and about creating an open space for 
ideas where democracy can thrive. There is a tendency, though, to view 
those who support Net neutrality as representing a supercilious 
position. Such criticism is unquestionably blinkered, but it also 
highlights certain telling concerns.

Telecom companies that wish to discriminate between applications argue
that in the absence of an Internet that has completely permeated all
strata of society, an obligation to maintain neutrality is not only
unreasonable on the companies, but also unfair on the consumer. After
all, if nothing else, Airtel Zero and Free Basics bring, at the least,
some portions of the Internet to people who otherwise have no means to
access the web. What we have, therefore, at some level, is a clash of
values: between access to the Internet (in a limited form) and the
maintenance of neutrality in an atmosphere that is inherently unequal.
This makes tailoring a solution to the problem a particularly arduous

The Internet, in its purest form, is a veritable fountain of
information. At its core lies a commitment to both openness and a level
playing field, where an ability to innovate is perennially maintained.
It is difficult to argue against Facebook when it says that some access
is better than no access at all. But one of the problems with Free
Basics, and indeed with Airtel Zero too, is that the consumer has no
choice in which websites he or she might want to access free of cost. If 
this decision is made only by Facebook, which might argue that it gives 
every developer an equal chance to be a part of its project as long as 
it meets a certain criteria, what we have is almost a paternalistic web. 
In such a situation, information, far from being free, is shackled by 
constraints imposed by the service provider.

*Laudable end, unethical means*

This is precisely one of the concerns raised by those arguing in favour
of Net neutrality, who, it is worth bearing in mind, aren’t resistant to 
the idea of a greater penetration of the Internet. Their apprehensions 
lie in companies resorting to what they believe is an unethical means to 
achieving, at least in theory, a laudable end. Accord\\ing to them, 
negating Net neutrality, in a bid to purportedly achieve greater access 
to the Internet in the immediate future, could prove profoundly 
injurious in the long run. Yes, Airtel Zero and Free Basics would bring 
to the less-privileged amongst us some access to the Internet, but the 
question is this: at what cost?

The worry is that if the programs that bring access to a part of the
Internet in the immediate future were to entrench themselves, it could
eventually lead to these telecom companies abusing their dominant
positions. No doubt, as Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre
for Internet and Society, has argued, it might require a deeper analysis 
to argue convincingly that packages such as Free Basics and Airtel Zero 
require immediate invalidation in their present forms; significantly, 
the former does not demand payments from the applications while the 
latter is premised on such consideration. But, viewed holistically, the 
companies’ actions could potentially be characterised as a form of 
predatory pricing, where consumers might benefit in the short run, only 
for serious damage to ensue to competition in the long run.

It is, therefore, necessary that any debate on the issue must address
the tension between the two apparently conflicting goals — the
importance of maintaining a neutral Internet and the need to ensure a
greater access to the web across the country. Mr. Zuckerberg argues that 
these two values are not fundamentally opposed to each other, but can — 
and must — coexist. He is possibly correct at a theoretical level.

But the history of markets tells us that we have to be very careful in
allowing predatory practices, devised to achieve short-term goals, to go 
unbridled. As citizens, each of us has a fundamental right to freedom of 
speech and expression. If we were to get the balance between these two 
values wrong, if we were to allow the domination, by a few parties, of 
appliances that facilitate a free exchange of ideas, in a manner that 
impinges on the Internet’s neutrality, our most cherished civil 
liberties could well be put to grave danger.

(/Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate in the Madras High Court./)

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