Mumbai Capital

‘Can’t decouple pricing from net neutrality’

Facebook’s Free Basics and the social networking giant’s defence for it has led to an uproar in India. Meanwhile, the Internet and Mobile Association of India and Nasscom have told the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that they are against differential pricing, while operators (except for Reliance Jio, which has abstained from participating) have given a thumbs-up for differential pricing.

In an interview with Sanjay Vijayakumar , Vishal Misra, a Computer Science professor at Columbia University, says you cannot decouple the issue of pricing from Net Neutrality, whose principle is that the network should be “neutral” and not favour any site or traffic over another.

Mr Misra presented his views on net neutrality to the Parliamentary Standing Committee looking into the issue in August last year.

What is your view on the Free Basics controversy?

I think if we take Facebook at its face value, then the whole controversy is needless.

The stated goal of both supporters and opponents of Free Basics is the same – get more people online in an affordable way. Facebook as a business gains as well because of its dominant position in the social networking space.

However, the way Facebook has approached the whole issue, not engaging with any degree of seriousness with the opposition and trying to bulldoze its way through with a massive ad campaign has been counter-productive.

I think it has been good for the traditional Indian advertising industry though, with a sudden and unexpected surge in revenue.

What is your take on Facebook’s defence of Free Basics?

Facebook is selectively applying the concept of net neutrality to build a defence for Free Basics. When you zero-rate selectively (make the bandwidth charges of a subset of the Internet zero), then you are distorting the market and it violates net neutrality. You cannot decouple the issue of pricing from net neutrality.

What stance should Indian regulators take?

Differential pricing is something that is against the concept of net neutrality, and it is a slippery slope that can lead to many damaging consequences.

The Indian regulators should forbid it. The latest consultation paper by TRAI has me quite hopeful, as it appears it has its priorities right and knows what it is doing. Let’s see how it plays out.

Will Netflix’s India launch spur the net neutrality debate?

Yes, definitely. Netflix has been the catalyst for the net neutrality debate in the US. Now, with its launch worldwide (including India) many issues are going to come up.

I think the focus in India will move to some extent on the issue of wired Internet access, competition in that space and fair usage policies of internet service providers. I expect to see a lot of debate around that.

Facebook is selectively applying net neutrality to

build a defence

for Free Basics

Prof Vishal MishraColumbia University

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 2:03:56 PM |

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