An Indian telecom operators introduction of Airtel Zero last to last week added more fuel to the fire. While eCommerce giant Flipkart has publicly declared its backing out from Airtel Zero, the market watchers believe the game isnt over. In an alarming news report by the Economic Times, it is known, the very strength of Internet—its a vast global network—also makes it uniquely vulnerable to access manipulation. This vulnerability is greater because mobile phones have displaced personal computers as the main Internet access point for consumers.
Telecom companies can easily create access barriers, keep competition out, give unfair advantage to established Internet businesses and harm both innovation and consumer welfare. Technology entrepreneurs ET spoke to were unanimous in their view that keeping Internet free was crucial for both consumers and business.
Sunal Jain, founder and CEO of @MobiNxt, an app developer told the financial daily, Without net neutrality, startups will fail…consumers wont be ready to pay for a new, innovative product. Jain’s point was that a startup’s initial investments were already formidable—in servers, government fees, HR—and an Internet that raised entry barrier by making them pay to, say, telecom companies would be a big blow for Indias newest entrepreneurial force. Experts agree. Prasanth Sugathan, Counsel at Software Freedom Law Center, told ET that Digital India, a big government plan, will not take off without net neutrality that promises a level playing field.
The ET elaborates, Google search and Google’s email service, Gmail, wouldnt today be the consumer-friendly, super-efficient global winners had Internet run on the idea that first movers will enjoy special access. Googles search service was preceded by Yahoos and products like Ask Jeeves and Alta Vista. Gmail was launched after Microsofts Hotmail had become dominant.