The cry against Tiered Network Access has taken a new turn with the Internet giant Google caught joining hands with Facebook and in a bid to stop Internet and Mobile Association of India from taking counter measures against Zero rating. As revealed by MediaNama, a slew of emails which outline the conversation between IAMAI’s Government Relations committee and Vineeta Dixit, member of Google’s Public Policy and the Government Relations team actively compelled the removal of any mention of Zero Rating from the IAMAI’s submission which is deposited as a response to the Department of Telecom’s report on Net Neutrality.
The DoT committee had identified Facebook’s Internet.org as a “gatekeeper” for Internet access and a service that will severely question the principles of non-discriminatory access. As quoted from the response “The committee therefore is of the firm opinion that 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,” further the report also added that “Collaborations between TSPs and content providers that enable such gatekeeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged.”
Zero rating allows the internet service providers to decide on the access fee for some of the services/websites. It also lets the ISPs to block a certain stream of content or put a translucent blanket on it so as to help benefit the rival player. The Zero Rating acts against the basic concept of level playing field and it in fact creates a severe disparity among the service providers.
ISPs will be reigning over the world of Internet and this will give rise to prompt monopolization by the “industry leaders” thus depriving the users from quality content.
Google had recently taken a backseat when it came to announcing Zero rating plan, thanks to the severe backlash from the consumers against Airtel Zero.
Coming back to the emails, the one sent by Dixit to the IAMAI governments relations committee clearly said that there will be no consensus on Zero Rating and requested for removal of the same from the submission, “We would like to register strong protest against this formulation and would request you to remove this (Zero Rating) from the submission.” Facebook has been taking a firm stand in favor of Zero Rating from the beginning while the others are flip-flopping from both sides of the fence.
This move from Google is not much of a surprise, considering that it had joined the telecom lobby COAI last year. Although Google had avoided taking a public stance by opting out of deposing before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT looking into Net Neutrality, but the divulge of recent emails is a clear cut indicator that Google is lobbying by piggybacking on IAMAI and the fact that IAMAI does not oppose Zero Rating.
Google’s hypocrisy comes to light if we carefully observe the positive stance it had rendered by supporting Net Neutrality in 2010 when it told TRAI thay it should be conscious of “the ways in which broadband providers’ practices can threaten the fundamental openness of the Internet. Consideration should be given to promoting a regulatory environment that protects user choice, competition and Innovation on the Internet. Google submits that in designing the regulatory environment for the National Broadband Plan, TRAI should consider the ways in which broadband providers practices can threaten this openness.” The Internet giant had further stressed upon the idea that “no matter what choice TRAI ultimately makes with respect to the forms of technology or the structure of the agency to implement the National Broadband Plan, it must explicitly put in place safeguards to protect network neutrality in the regulatory framework for the project.”
As Medianama rightly pointed out, IAMAI had earlier taken a strong stand against the Zero Rating clearly saying that the industry body wants “No discrimination based on cost of access” but on the contrary a fresh draft submitted to the DoT on 9th of August supports Net Neutrality with statements like, “Reducing data rates for particular applications, such as through flat rating or zero rating agreements, can help increase access to information”, “people whose first data use is a free, zero-rated offering are more likely to buy a data plan for full Internet access.”
The IAMAI’s government relations committee’s decision will be viewed as representative of all the Internet companies in India, since it is one of the oldest authoritarian committee in the Indian perspective.
Google’s change in direction and the apparent lobbying by the IAMAI is a murky reminder of how Goliath corporations are teaming up to destroy the level playing ground for content providers and instead create a well contained ecosystems that thrives on dictating over the user’s choices.
It is but obvious for us to glance over Google’s stance over net neutrality in other countries. Google and Facebook had supported Net Neutrality in the US and in fact they had claimed that they were the driving force for Net Neutrality and were working “tirelessly” in order to achieve an open Internet devoid of any discrimination with regards to wireline traffic. The recent lobbying by Google gives away the fact that it is perceiving India as a soft target and trying to build policies that would immensely benefit them and the Telcos.
The recent Net-neutrality discussion thread on MyGov.in has garnered an excellent support in favor of net-neutrality and open internet.
That being said level playing ground is the essence of any services, businesses should prosper on the basis of the quality service they render and not because of how much money they can burn to bring consumers on board. Internet.org, Airtel Zero, Telecom operators subsidizing specific services/applications all point out at creating a rift between the services and directly meddling with the consumers choice.