Free versus Freedom

  • Atul Sobti
  • India
  • Apr 17, 2015

Who owns the Internet? For only He should be able to permit or deny access to it, or influence the speed to access it. The Internet is the Global Network of processors and transmissions and terminal equipment, operating on the most comprehensive Global Spectrum. But it is also Global Content. The Internet is thus uniquely the medium and the message. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom companies, who are now trying to play God, are but mere providers of the services of the Internet to their customers. The Internet, most importantly, needs to remain neutral (which is why Net Neutrality is the buzzword), allowing for easy collaboration and constant creativity. The hot issue of Net Neutrality should not just be about whether we should allow ISPs and telcos to regulate the speed at which we can open/use an app or which app we can open/use. There are other, perhaps more serious issues that should be addressed alongside. Today we innately take Google search output and its ‘sequencing’ as the ‘truth’, when in many cases it may not be so – and not just due to chance, but perhaps ‘manipulation’. EU is currently investigating Google for this and other matters. Google is today almost as ubiquitous as the Net, and yet it seems to follow its own rules. Google is the ‘net copy’, the index, the algorithm, the platform, the content and the intermediary. Like the Net, Google is in its own way the medium and the message. This is bound to lead to conflict of interest (if it hasn’t already), and it will only increase once Google becomes a commercial and payment gateway (as per its plan). Google also charges for its services, as does Facebook, for ‘boosts’. Google has tormented ‘standard’ businesses, and it has ‘googled’ content creators and producers. Why, and how? Because it can ‘justify’ this as benefit to consumers and customers. Google has disrupted businesses in the name of transparency or lower cost to customers. Ponder this: Microsoft sells its operating system, but lets customers then use it for ‘whatever’ in their businesses;  Google takes no money for its services, but can impact your business

The ISPs and telcos will get little sympathy. They have been profitable entities for decades and have had great times. They also disrupted established businesses. As long as they were not hit by an online raider, they were fine. Why didn’t telecom companies enter online value added services or invest in companies offering them? They could have chosen the segment they wanted to play in  - whether for volume, value, growth or profit, or all. The learning is that one must innovate, collaborate or invest in new areas and businesses constantly….but also know when and where to stop. Regarding the current controversy, accepting a Telecom Zero scheme could be akin to playing a zero sum game – where they will win, and we will lose.  And the scheme will soon spawn its own version of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – perhaps an Applications Optimisation (an App Op).

Closer home, top print houses have fast realised that they had messed up by silently signing up for ‘Net Not-Neutral’ benefits, and are now backtracking fast – though even the leader wants others to back off first. Print service providers are of course able to influence content, but they also can influence access (delivery and circulation). And they have been selling below cost forever, while ‘cross-subsidising’ themselves through corporate advertisements. Yet they have been getting away with it…perhaps because they are offline? But free speech on the Net has hit their cousins in telecom. Maybe somebody will see this larger offline scam some day. 

ISPs and telcos need to learn from Google. They should offer the ‘general public’ everything free, as also unrestricted access, while making money from ‘corporates’ and ‘data’ and ‘value added services’. Maybe it is best to offer customers an access  choice – say, a free unfettered option (the current one) versus targeted paid (value added) or even a bespoke/tailored option. ‘Hard’ value added service options are already being offered in terms of access speed and reliability.

Google is not considered an Over The Top (OTT) service like WhatApp or Skype. Why? Because it is the most well entrenched inside – Google Inside (the Internet). Perhaps that is why it is being charged with ‘insider trading’.

Will online become the survival of the free-est?



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