Industry

Neutrality myth

Net Neutrality is the new hot subject. Simply put, it means giving equal treatment to all traffic on the Net by Internet service providers. The subject has gained considerable visibility in the wake of Airtel launching Airtel Zero. It’s a new platform that allows Airtel customers free browsing of websites of companies that join the platform for a fee. Airtel Zero has drawn wide condemnation on the social media. And, the Netizens have unleashed a vociferous campaign to protest against what they claim a devious Airtel move to throttle freedom of access to the Net browsers by practicing discrimination.

Undeniably, discrimination is an accepted way of our life. There exists a much larger constituency of incapacitated consumers, who silently suffer the deliberate denial of neutrality everyday at common places. Savvy Netizens have a way of articulating their points of view. And, they use the social media with sophisticated fineness.

The unsung citizens, however, have remained in the realm of obscurity, and their voices are often drowned in the authoritarian assertion — rather imposition — of supremacy by self-styled rule-setters at assorted places in our own neighbourhood. These poor citizens have neither the tool (which the Netizens have in the powerful social media) nor the wherewithal to fight the blatant ‘non-neutrality’ that is unleashed on them every time they make a buy. Comprehending the loaded meaning of a sophisticated term such as ‘neutrality’ may be beyond their simple thought process. Somewhere in their minds, however, they do feel and recognise that they are being unfairly forced to accept discrimination. Yet, they chug along accepting discrimination as a necessary concomitant of life! 




Caught in the Net


1. There exists a much larger constituency of incapacitated consumers who silently suffer the deliberate denial of neutrality everyday at common places

2. Reality is replete with innumerable instances where favoured treatment, nay discrimination, is a norm than an exception

3. Undeniably, discrimination is an accepted way our life. There exists a much larger constituency of incapacitated consumers who silently suffer the deliberate denial of neutrality everyday at common places.

4. The Internet Age has thrown a new class system comprising Netizens and Citizens.



A mobile flower vendor just opposite a temple is a classical case of ‘offline’ non-neutrality that exists in the real world. No new vendor can just park outside the temple — even for a few fleeting moments — and sell flowers. There is an unwritten understanding between the rule-setter in the vicinity of the temple and the lone mobile flower vendor, which provides for a ‘protected space’ for doing business. This rule-setter may not necessarily have any official authorisation. For the cover given to the mobile flower vendor, he charges a fee. The implication of this unwritten pact is akin to what the Netizens accuse Airtel of trying to practice with the launch of its new platform. A poor citizen has no choice but to buy from the lone flower vendor. He is denied alternative options, thanks to the unwritten understanding between the rule-setter in that area and the mobile flower vendor.

Take a roadside hotel on the highway. The hotel thrives, thanks to the benevolence of bus operators — more precisely the crew. An understanding between the crew and the hotel ensures that the bus stops at this particular hotel on the highway. It may not necessarily be the best of hotels on the stretch. Yet, passengers are compulsorily driven into that! Where is option for these passengers in terms of picking the hotel of their choice! This pecuniary understanding, nay collusion, between the service providers of different sort (such as the rule-setter in the vicinity of the temple and the bus crew) and vendors (such as the flower seller and hotel) has ensured that there is no real fairness in business environment.

Perfect competition, as articulated in the classical economic sense, is a non-existent theoretical possibility. Is it really possible to do business in a non-discriminatory way? Reality is replete with innumerable instances where favoured treatment, nay discrimination, is a norm than an exception.  The Internet Age has thrown a new class system comprising Netizens and Citizens. Thanks to the social media, the Netizens have become a powerful force. And, their collective bargaining capacity is proving to be an effective trend-setting tool. The conventional citizens, on the other hand, are a fragmented voice. The moot point is: Is the Net Neutrality debate a wholesome articulation of an entire class? Or, is it just a ventilation of anger by a new rising class?

One of the applications on Internet.org is AP Speaks, an application of Andhra Pradesh Government. This allows the citizen of the State to provide feedback to key initiatives of the State Government. Should this application too be banned along with all other forms of zero-rating? Well, the debate is set to take classical twists and turns in the days to come.

jagannathan.kt@thehindu.co.in             


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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 10:17:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/net-neutrality-and-perfect-competition/article7117306.ece

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