Twitter is offering Reliance subscribers free access to its platform during the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 (Hat Tip: Gururaj S). While this looks like a promotional offer and is most likely for a limited period of time, it’s still a worrying development.
We’ve written to Twitter India, and will update once we hear back.
— Gururaj S (@Equateall) February 27, 2015
Under net neutrality principles, consumers decide which lawful content, applications, and services they want to create, access or share with others. Currently, the Internet provides an almost frictionless experience for an individual to communicate with the world, and it also provides the lowest barrier to competitive entry for businesses the world has ever seen. It serves as a great equalizer in the access to information and in reaching a global audience. If you have an opinion or a new innovative web-based service, you don’t have to get permission to share it with the world at large…. Without such net neutrality principles in place, some of today’s most successful and widely-known Internet companies might never have come into existence.
Given this stance, this current move is quite surprising (even if it’s just a promotional campaign).
It’s also worth noting that Reliance Communications has historically been the first port-of-call for such deals: it was (now Facebook owned) Whatsapp’s first deal in India (with unlimited usage of WhatsApp and Facebook across the country for Rs. 16/month), and Google had inked a two year partnership with the telco in 2012 to promote Android in India, offering a free 3G data plan offering 1GB of data transfer to all customers who bought a new Google endorsed Android device.
Readers will remember that last month Facebook and Reliance Communications had partnered to offer free data access to a bunch of websites to Reliance customers through Internet.org in India. Google is also reportedly discussing the idea of ‘zero rating’ with some app developers about reduction and possible cost elimination of data. The search giant is apparently planning for this with companies like Flipkart, Redbus, Olacabs and others. Under this ‘zero rating’ plan, mobile networks will not charge for a pre-specified amount of data consumption on certain apps or internet services.
Such free services ensure that consumption for some portals become free, and some remain paid. The Indian consumer is cost-conscious and are likely to lean towards what is cheaper.
The Three Principles of Net Neutrality:
Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.