A heartfelt letter to TRAI

Dear TRAI,

About a month ago, you released a consultation paper on the subject of net neutrality. You asked for our responses. And by now, people a lot smarter than me, who are much more adept at explaining their views in legalese to your very biased and deceitful paper have done so. It is also clear that you have received an adequate number of responses, eleven lakh by your own admission. So what I will try to instead do is refrain from the technical aspects and respond in layman terms.

I would like you to know that I am heartbroken at the fact that you are more bothered about ISPs than the consumers, as is quite clear from the tone of your paper. I think you have forgotten why you were setup in the first place. According to your own website, “One of the main objectives of TRAI is to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition.” Sometimes we lose our way in life, I get it. But it’s important that we make a recovery and come back stronger. And I hope that after having heard so many voices of the people you have betrayed, the very people you were supposed to protect, you will recover. I will take the liberty of ignoring your loaded questions and instead talk about the issues the come to the fore in this debate.

Let me make one thing clear, as you begin your recovery, we don’t owe anything to the operators, just like we didn’t owe the airlines any money. It’s their job to figure out how to make money in the 21st century. If they can’t innovate, they deserve to perish. The government does not stop building bridges just because a ferry operator will lose his livelihood. Everybody needs to adapt. The operators can’t lock this country down in the past century.

What’s funny in this regard is that your paper itself states that operators stand to make many times more money from data services as compared to the decrease in revenue from calls.

It is unfortunate that you have decided to lose any dignity you ever had and done the bidding of the operators. You completely distorted an Economist article just to somehow prove that net neutrality cannot be upheld. And don’t deny this, because the Economist itself agrees.

But hopefully now you have decided to mend your ways, and hence I won’t lambast you forever for what you have done. I will instead focus on what needs to be done going forward. And you should too.

One thing you need to understand is that operators should limit themselves to supplying bandwidth, and not care about what we do with it. How we use the Internet is not to be decided by any authority presiding over us. We are decidedly a nation of very smart people and, you might find this surprising due to the dense fog of cronyism that engulfs you, we can handle the Internet. So don’t you worry about our “sentiments”. And not to mention the fact that operators seeing what we do with our data is a serious privacy concern.

I take strong opposition to the term “OTT” that you have used to describe every service on the Internet. Which again puts the operators on a very high pedestal over the tech companies that have done amazing innovation and made the Internet what it is today. Net neutrality is very important to tech companies, and I along with hundreds of other startups have signed a letter addressed to the PM as well as to you, which I expect you to read thoroughly.

One of the major issues that have come up in the past month is of zero rating. Operators have tried to justify this by saying it is like toll-free numbers, and I can’t even begin to say how wrong this is. Just like all of the other analogies that have been used to explain this issue. I don’t know why we need to talk about the Internet in metaphors. The Internet is not telephony. Or anything else that people use to convolute the issue. The Internet is the Internet. We are not in the nineteenth century discussing some future technology. This is 2015 and today, a considerable part of the human experience happens on the Internet. So we sure understand it.

Zero rating is nothing but positive discrimination. It is very important that you ban positive discrimination by operators. This is something the inventor of the Internet has also stated.

India cannot afford to have all of its new Internet users be restricted to a small portion of the Internet, because of differential pricing and positive discrimination. You might argue that Indians that are not yet on the Internet certainly deserve the fruits of everything that it offers. Many of the new Internet users that we want to welcome online are from the lower economic strata, due to which they have always suffered from a lack of resources. And when we finally have the opportunity to bridge that gap, we can’t censor the Internet in a way that will ensure that these people are kept out of India’s growth forever. It is important that our economy be inclusive for all, which is something the PM has said on multiple occasions. Increasing Internet penetration in the country is a just cause, and I completely agree with you, Indians deserve everything that the Internet offers and nothing less.

The US has already taken a strong pro net neutrality stance, and so have quite a few other nations. This is our chance to be amongst the first countries to enact powerful guidelines on this, and come ahead of the curve.

I hope that you will hear what a million voices have said to you with intent, and incorporate all of that when sending your suggestions to the government. Here’s wishing that you make a full recovery very soon. Here’s wishing that you take a stance to uphold the values of an open Internet.

Akshay Tyagi
24th April, 2015
New Delhi



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