India’s Biggest Irony : The Deafening Silence Of Unicorn Founders And Nasscom’s Lack Of Clarity [Net Neutrality]

The ongoing net neutrality debate has seen participation from several startup founders and influencer voices, but Indian startup ecosystem’s biggest irony lies in the fact that most of the Unicorn startup founders have decided to remain silent about the net neutrality debate.

Don't Hide, Dear Unicorn Founders!
Don’t Hide, Dear Unicorn Founders!

Except for VSS (of Paytm) who has been extremely vocal about his support for net neutrality, none of the founders have come out in the open and said anything about it.

Case in point : Did you see the founders of InMobi, Olacabs, Quikr and others even talking about it (in public forum)?

That’s really sad. Extremely sad.

It’s the neutral web that got these founders to where they are and their silence is definitely not appreciated.

Imagine people in a certain state not able to use the Ola app? Or unable to use Quikr service? It didn’t happen because…well the Internet was available to all and the services were competing on its merit and not on access points.

To add to that, Nasscom too makes a politically correct statement. While the organization believes that net neutrality is important, but is now proposing formation of a non-profit org that will *DECIDE* the differential pricing program.

From their official statement (emphasis is ours):

Accordingly, any differential pricing programs including proposals by TSPs and their partners should have explicit directives / approval of the regulator and deemed to be in public interest. The onus of proving the larger public good arising out of such proposals should be on the TSP and its partners. Such proposals should be subject to a wider public consultation by the regulator before arriving at a final decision. With lack of stringent privacy laws in India and the high commercial value attached to user information, it is important that differential pricing plans are vetted carefully by the regulator.

NASSCOM further proposes that even after requisite approval, a suitable oversight mechanism should be put in place to check that the TSPs continue to abide by the principles of net neutrality. For this, NASSCOM recommends establishment of an independent not-for-profit entity with an independent board, who would own and manage proposed differential pricing programs that are deemed to be in the public interest and are philanthropic in nature.

How can Nasscom talk about differential pricing and net neutrality in one sentence? Why can’t they take a *FOR-INNOVATION* side, and not try to please the Facebooks of the world?

Who are they representing?

Why are some Unicorn founders and organizations so spineless?

These founders and organizations represent India in the global diaspora and it’s time they show some spine and take a stand.

Sadly, this is what probably happened when East India company entered and hired Indian generals and soldiers to control India.

Welcome to 2016 version of the same.

If you still want to save the Internet (and NOT rely on spineless founders and organizations), go to SaveTheInternet.in and tell TRAI that you need a democratic web and NOT an internet access whose keys are with somebody else.

                         Stand-up Unicorn Founders. Stand-up Nasscom. [tweet this]

Image credit: shutterstock

Facebook Turns EVIL; Do NOT Sign The ‘Save Free Basics’ Campaign

Facebook is going all-in to kill your Internet freedom. Facebook has launched a ‘Save Free Basics’ campaign which entices the users to support the campaign and agree to a pre-written message and send it to TRAI, the regulatory authority. The notification shows which friends of yours have agreed to it and then ask ‘you too’, to agree.

Facebook's 'Save Free Basics' campaign is MISLEADING
Facebook’s ‘Save Free Basics’ campaign is MISLEADING

freebasics

 

The message goes as such:

“To the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, I support digital equality for India. Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile operators. With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics – and digital equality for India. Thank you.”

freebasicsstand

NOTE that Free Basics is against the principles of Net Neutrality and Facebook has been trying several unethical means to garner support for this in various ways.

For the sake of a better and open future for all, please do NOT sign for ‘Save Free Basics’ campaign.

Reliance Jio’s Newly Planned ‘Content-Streaming Package’ Not In Sync With Principles Of Net Neutrality

The Amabni-owned Reliance Jio Infocomm is planning to introduce, what they call as “content-streaming packages”, eying to compete better in the booming telco market.

The content-usage policies are exactly similar to what net neutrality activists feared the most—by bundling both data and talk time into a single package Reliance Jio could be treading on non-neutral lines.

Jio Infocom is planning on introducing ‘Jio Packages’ which will allow subscribers to watch (say 5 movies a month), or watch cricket match live, or use IM apps like Whatsapp and Viber without having to pay for the download separately.

A transaction on Jio’s payments bank platform will subsidise the connectivity, said sources from the company to ET.

“The company’s internal calculations show that even in this (content) model, it should have monetization of 60-80 per GB of data consumed. Jio has lined up applications such as chat, money, and television to back up its digital strategy,” added the source.
[Source]

Ambani in a meeting claimed that Rs 300-400 a month would buy adequate data on the Jio network for calling and Internet surfing, once the bundles are launched.

This is just a third of the current market rates being levied by existing players like Bharti Airtel, Idea and Vodafone.

 

How The New Plan Doesn’t Go Hand-In-Hand With Net Neutrality

Well, the new bundle plan looks wonderful, but the catch is that these bundles are treated as a separately deductible plan–apart from the original data and voice deductions.

So now you have previously agreed to pay money for the “special data bundle”, and any usage not specified in the bundle will be charged extra.

One principle of Net Neutrality states: “ISPs and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

Airtel faced criticism from activists and users alike in India for their zero-rating-based Airtel Zero platform that provides free access to basic websites like facebook, flipkart, etc.

Flipkart decided not to list its website on the platform, after the widespread public outrage against Airtel Zero. Its founder, Sachin Bansal took to twitter to explain the company’s stance on net neutrality, earlier.

Sachin Bansal talks to NextBigWhat on net neutrality and Airtel Zero, take a look at it here.

Zuckerberg Talks About Net Neutrality And Free Basics

Zuckerberg breaks the ice on the ongoing net neutrality debate in India at a Townhall Q&A held at IIT-Delhi: “Facebook supports all principles of net neutrality, even though countries are still working on developing a standard rule”.

He further states that internet can be expensive for carriers, and that Facebook is trying to offer low-bandwidth services under the controversial Free Basics zero-rating platform. The only setback is that Facebook won’t be able to provide the whole internet for free, adds Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg dubs Free Basics as a ‘discovery platform’ that helps people connect to the internet for free. He also shared statistics about the platform: “For every 10 people that get access to internet, 1 job is created 1 person is lifted out of poverty.” [Not sure from where he sourced these numbers]

Zuckerberg Explains More About Facebook’s Stance on NN

According to Zuckerberg, the Internet.org project has connected 15 million people from around the world in 24 countries. “India is one of the countries where you cannot connect the world without connecting India,” he states.

He maintains that some proponents of net neutrality say there should be no free access, and that the debate over the Neutrality regulations are still on-going.

“Operators can hurt customers by levying extra charges for OTT services or prioritize bandwidth for websites, which violates Net neutrality rules. We have built an open platform with no filtering; and will continue to push for access. Most people who file petitions against Internet.org already have access to the internet. What about the ones who support Free Basics but have no access to internet? How will they sign petitions online without internet?,” Zuckerberg explains when asked about his stance on NN.

Facebook to Continue With Internet.org In India; Will Roll Out Wifi Service

Facebook Vice President for Mobile and Global Access Policy Kevin Martin, at the India Economic Convention 2015 clearly stated that Facebook will not withdraw its internet.org platform from India.

He said the concept was brought in as the telecom operators were providing different levels to speed to provide a faster access.

He added that through internet.org certain websites can be accessed free. The websites will not be charged but will need to comply with a certain technical code.

Kevin Martin also said, “We also have our connectivity lab which is looking at Drones and unmanned aerial vehicle to lower the cost of service to people without infrastructure. We are rolling out a kind of Wi-Fi service at a lower cost which is trying to adjust cost issue in other countries and looking out to do that in India. The only limitation for any developer to participate (in internet.Org) is that it has to be structured so that it uses limited amount of bandwidth.”

The social media giant is also planning to have a different set up that provides through internet.org. The company is also planning to launch a low cost wifi in other countries as well as in India.  [source]

Google India Lobbying For The IAMAI To Take A Pro-Zero Rating Stand

Google has apparently joined Facebook in its attempt to prevent the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) from taking a stand against Zero Rating services in the country.

Vineeta Dixit, a member of Google’s public policy and government relations team, has strongly pushed for the removal of any mention of Zero Rating from the IAMAI’s submission on Net Neutrality, according to Medianama.

The Department of Telecom committee on Net Neutrality had advised against having services such as Facebook’s Internet.org, seeing it as a potential gatekeeper to Internet access in the India.

In its report, the DoT committee said, “…content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value even if it is for an ostensible public purpose.”

Google too has in the past joined hands with ISPs to offer Zero Rated service such as its partnership with Airtel to provide 200MB free data for Google Play apps and no data charges for OTA updates on Android One handsets.

Reports have suggested that Google too was planning to roll out a service similar to Internet.org in India, but put a hold on plans given the massive debate raging around Net Neutrality.

Facebook Wants You To Like Internet.Org; Either Now, Or Later

 

Facebook users in India have been seeing a pop-up message asking them to support free access to basic Internet services in the country through the company’s Internet.org service.

Facebook Internet Org Message

When we say ‘ask’ we mean ‘force’ since the message doesn’t seem to have the option of answering “no” with Yes, I’m in” and “Not Now” being the only two options.

Facebook’s heavy handed tactics to gather support for Internet.org comes at a time when the Indian Telecom Ministry’s panel on net neutrality proposed against having services such as Internet.org.

Internet.org received negative publicity for being anti net neutrality by selectively signing up with publishers and services. Effectively, Facebook was controlling what a user has ‘free access’ to.

The revolt forced Facebook to open up its Internet.org platform to all developers and the service has even begun partnering with multiple service providers in order to reach more people.

Still, the point is that Facebook is trying to raise support for Internet.org in order to make a case for letting it run the service the way it pleases in India. Unfortunately, all users can do is agree with Facebook either now, or do it later.

DoT Says Zero Rating Plans Must Adhere To Net Neutrality Principles

The Department of Telecom committee which submitted its report to the government about net neutrality has said that ‘Zero rating platforms’ would have to provide the same terms for entry to all content providers and websites if they are to be allowed.

The DoT report on net neutrality says zero rate plans must be open to all users.
The DoT report on net neutrality says zero rate plans must be open to all users.

Joint Secretary of Telecoms V Umashankar, a member of the DoT committee, said that collaborations between telecom operators and content providers should be discouraged from adopting a ‘gatekeeper’ role between users and content. He added that the government and its regulator would take measures to ‘restore balance to ensure that the Internet remains an open and neutral platform for expression and innovation’.

According to the committee plans such as Bharti Airtel’s ‘Zero’ plan, which has seen significant flak in the net neutrality debate, violates the principles of net neutrality as they currently are.

The report published by the committee has suggested that in the case of zero rating platforms, TRAI would have to study the tariff plan and see if it conforms to the principles of net neutrality on a case by case basis.

#NetNeutrality: DoT Panel Against Zero Rating Services And Restricting OTT Services

The Department of Telecom’s panel on Net Neutrality has apparently disallowed Zero Rating services and has recommended that any prioritization of Internet traffic should be banned.

control-mobile-phone-with-gestures

The six-member committee report along with telecom regulator’s recommendation will form the final basis of the government’s policy on net neutrality.

Recommendations ranged from the need to ensure that ISPs/TSPs do not restrict access in any way or give certain services an unfair advantage, to encouraging OTT services.

The panel’s view should come as a serious blow to telcos in India that have been lobbying for Zero Rating services and to regulate OTT services such as WhatsApp and Skype.

Overall, the committee has said that the policy on net neutrality should also promote competition and encourage startup culture in India.

Telcos in India were trying to regulate OTT services, claiming that they were losing revenues to these services which offered free calling and messaging over the Internet.

The panel however did mention that while telcos should be disallowed from using traffic management as a way to slow down certain content, reasonable and legitimate traffic management can be allowed, provided that it doesn’t violate the net neutrality norms.

The DoT committee apparently met 45 organizations including Facebook, Google, Flipkart, Amazon, Paytm, Viber and Skype, telecom operators and various public interest groups in order to built its report.

The report is a stark contrast to TRAI’s recommendation report which supported Zero Rating services and regulation of OTT services under the guise of managing data traffic given the insufficient network infrastructure of the country.

Here’s are the recommendations of the DoT panel on Net Neutrality

OTT Applications

  • There should be a separation of “application layer” from “network layer” as application services are delivered over a licensed network.
  • Specific OTT communication services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with through regulatory instruments.
  • In case of VoIP OTT communication services, there exists a regulatory arbitrage wherein such services also bypass the existing licensing and regulatory regime creating a non-level playing field between TSPs and OTT providers both competing for the same service provision.
  • The existence of a pricing arbitrage in VoIP OTT communication services requires a graduated and calibrated public policy response.
  • For OTT application services, there is no case for prescribing regulatory oversight similar to conventional communication services.

Traffic Management:

  • TSPs/ISPs should make adequate disclosures to the users about their traffic management policies, tools and intervention practices to maintain transparency and allow users to make informed choices
  • Unreasonable traffic management, exploitative or anti-competitive in nature may not be permitted.
  • In general, for legitimate network management, application-agnostic control may be used. However, application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may not be permitted.
  • Traffic management practices like DPI should not be used for unlawful access to the type and contents of an application in an IP packet.
  • Improper (Paid or otherwise) Prioritization may not be permitted
  • Application-agnostic congestion control being a legitimate requirement cannot be considered to be against Net Neutrality. However application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may be against the principles of Net Neutrality.
  • Mechanism to minimize frivolous complaints will be desirable.

DoT Panel On Net Neutrality Opposes Internet .org But Favors Airtel Zero

In yet another startling revelation, the DoT panel report on Net Neutrality has apparently opposed Facebook’s Internet.org initiative but supports services similar to Airtel Zero with prior clearance from TRAI.

Facebook-Internet.org

Internet.org which provided users with access to online services at zero data charges came under fire for promoting select products. After several partner exits, Facebook opened up Internet.org to all developers.

While the DoT has said services such as Airtel Zero can be allowed it added that collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable gate-keeping roles should be actively discouraged.

While Facebook makes no money from content providers if they choose to offer their services on Internet.org, Airtel Zero makes money directly from app developers or website owners, thereby providing users access to those services at zero data charges.

The move to allow services such as Airtel Zero is bound to find resistance among Net Neutrality activists and while Facebook might have opened up its service to all developers, it still creates an unfair advantage for telecom operators considering that Internet.org is available only to Reliance users.

DoT Report On Net Neutrality Apparently In Support Of Regulating OTT Services

The highly anticipated Department of Telecom (DoT) report on Net Neutrality has apparently recommended that Over-The-Top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp and Skype be regulated under the guise of maintaining fair play in the telecom sector.

Chat Apps

Telecom operators had earlier floated the idea of it being made mandatory for OTT services to pay a licensing fee and adhering to other guidelines for operation in the country. The suggestion received a lot of flak from the public, as it violates net neutrality norms.

The revelation comes as television News channel ET Now got its hands on a copy of the report submitted to Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for his approval. Social Media has lit up with people voicing their disapproval of the move.

Indian Telcos are claiming that they are losing revenues to OTT services such as WhatsApp and Skype since these services offer free voice calling and messaging to users, prompting them to make fewer calls and send fewer messages over traditional networks.

Another argument telcos have brought up the lack of sufficient broadband infrastructure in the country, which could crash if the use of OTT services isn’t regulated.

However, it should be noted that telecom operators charge users for the data that gets used while making calls and sending messages through OTT services. Some operators have even tied up with IM clients to offer users free use of their apps, in turn earning revenues directly from OTT players.

The report has been submitted by the committee DoT appointed along with telecom regulator TRAI’s suggestions. If telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad approves the report, regulating OTT services will no longer be seen as violation of Net Neutrality norms in India.

From the ET Now report, it isn’t clear what stand the DoT committee has taken on Zero Rated services such as Airtel Zero, which have again been hammered by the public and net neutrality activists for grossly putting telecom operators in control of what content users see on the Internet.

Image source: Flickr

Indian Govt Report On Net Neutrality To Be Out Soon

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the government will soon come out with its report on Net Neutrality and is awaiting telecom regulator TRAI’s take on the issue.

Ravi Shankar Prasad DOT

The issue of Net Neutrality has been playing out at a global stage for some time now and took over Indian social media streams after Zero Rating services such as Airtel Zero broke cover.

A 6 member panel was appointed by the Department of Telecom in January to build regulations on net neutrality and OTT services such as Skype and WhatsApp.

TRAI also invited stakeholders to comment on the issue, for which it received over 10 lakh comments. Majority of the public support has been in favour of banning Zero Rating services.

Facebook Opens Up Internet.org To All Developers; Wards Off Anti-Net Neutrality Sentiment

Facebook has announced that Internet.org, the service through which it offers free Internet access to those who don’t have it yet, will be opened up to developers.
Internet.org_Logo
The move comes soon after the Internet.org initiative was targeted for being anti net neutrality because it provided access only to a select number of websites and services.

“Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities,” said the company in a blogpost.

The social network giant claimed that it chose the previous group of partners in order to build a simple and data efficient offering, however since consumer choice is of great importance, it is opening up the platform to other developers.
Facebook claims that its Internet.org initiative has already introduced 8 million people to the Internet, and that opening the platform up to more developers will onboard a larger number of people.
Internet.org has been criticized for being a zero rating service that made for an unequal Internet, and the negativity surrounding it lead to partners such as Cleartrip, The Times Group, NDTV etc to pull out.
The initiative will remain to be one where Facebook does not gain monetarily, however more people on the Internet means more potential users for Facebook’s services, which will ultimately lead to increased earnings for the company.
However, a free and open platform isn’t being seen as a bad one at this point of time. It’s just that none of the platforms are truly open, but Facebook seems to be showing that it’s trying to set things straight.
Developers will need to adhere to a set of technical specifications if they want to develop services for Internet.org.

COAI Says Its #SabkaInternet Campaign Garnered Support From 40 Lakh People

The COAI has announced that its ‘Sabka Internet, Sabka Vikas’ campaign that roots for net neutrality while promoting zero rating services has received support from over 40 lakh Indian mobile users in under a week.
Sabke Internet
The campaign which launched on April 22 received a lot of flak from net neutrality activists and the public for not being straightforward, and that the COAI was deceiving users into supporting services such as Airtel Zero.
The COAI used SMS and voice calls to gather the public’s support, and says it intentionally used the medium in order to reach users who might not yet have access to the Internet.
It might seem like the COAI is calling out a non-internet user’s voice in the anti-zero rating protests, since most of the campaigns were carried out online.
The COAI added that over 40 lakh people showed support for the cause, while a little over 10% chose to opt out. Further, the database of supporters is auditable on request by appropriate agencies, making sure we don’t have another fiasco such as TRAI’s email id release.

Anonymous India Brings Down TRAI Website Citing Email ID Privacy Lapse

In the fight for Net Neutrality, hacker group Anonymous India has brought down TRAI’s official website after the telecom regulatory body released the list of email IDs from which it received responses on Net Neutrality.
TRAI’s move was seen as one that threatened the privacy of over a million Internet users in India, with spammers being able to create havoc by gaining such a large database.
Anonymous Tweet
Anonymous India claimed responsibility for bringing down the TRAI website with a DDoS attack, and also warned that it could soon hack the website.
While making the responses received over the Net Neutrality debate public isn’t so much of an issue, the public has latched onto the TRAI’s ill planned move to make personal information public.
The slip up follows the COAI’s distasteful campaign to promote zero rating services such as Airtel Zero, by confusing users with a banner of it being in support of Net Neutrality.

COAI: Supporting Zero Rating Services Is Supporting Net Neutrality

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which is comprised of network providers such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea has started a campaign dubbed #sabkainternet in order to show their support for Net Neutrality in India.
It might have come as a hurrah moment for many net neutrality advocates, but dwelling a bit deeper into the prospects of what the COAI is really trying to do, reveals something sinister.
The COAI’s campaign is far from straightforward, and lacks all explanation of what supporting their version of Net Neutrality really means. It’s no secret that the COAI is backing zero rating services such as Airtel Zero (yes the one which kicked off the whole Net Neutrality debate in the first place).
While we see hardly anything wrong with the COAI trying to push its agenda for allowing the zero rating of apps and services, it’s the way the body has gotten around to doing it that irks us. The body’s #sabkainternet campaign hardly clarifies what its true stand is.
People have begun receiving an SMS that reads “COAI supports #SabkaInternet. I believe that I should have a right to choose what I access on the internet. To support, give a missed call to 1800 270 6899.”
Upon calling the number, users hear a message that says:

Thank you for supporting #SabkaInternet for a Digital Bharat with:
#1 Right to choose what you want to access
#2. Right to an affordable Internet
#3. Access to solutions that make internet affordable for you
#4. Same rules being applicable for the same services
To opt-out give a missed call to 02261227979

The third point does point at COAI’s agenda of pushing zero rating services, such as Airtel Zero, but it’s rather subtle. Airtel and other telecom operators, despite their massive marketing push haven’t been able to garner public support, but is using such a tactic right?
People on social networks and the media have pointed out just this, in the hope that those less informed do have a chance to rightly decide what opting in means for them. By flaunting the tag of net neutrality, while not explaining the implications, does seem to be quite a shady practice.
Airtel Zero might just be a great business proposition that infringes on some of the core aspects of net neutrality, however rather than working to fix it, telecom operators are merely trying to hoodwink users into believing it’s right. Here’s a great case of that.
A lot right now is hinging on TRAI’s report on OTT services in India, but sensing the negativity surrounding the issue, even the Modi government has become weary and has clarified that it will support net neutrality.