Have you ever thought about the reason behind free Twitter, Wikipedia in Ncell network in Nepal. Also, have you given a thought about free Facebook in India via Internet.org? This program is called Zero-rating where the telecom operators and Internet Service Providers (ISP) provide service from the selected sites free of charge. Recently our survey showed that most Nepalese would prefer Ncell over NTC because they can use free Twitter and Wikipedia. This is both good and bad but we have to consider the most important net neutrality for it.
Few days ago due to road extension work, internet line was down at our office. So we were using mobile data. Then we remembered about Ncell’s free Twitter service. Within 5 hours we were totally enjoying it with messaging, sharing images, posting, tagging, etc. We were enjoying it without breaking a sweat because it was FREE. Apart from the increasing use of AdBlock many publishers and internet users are afraid of this zero rating policy. This is bad for the net neutrality according to some critics.
Internet and data are the telecom’s biggest revenue source these days. This is because of the massive increasing and growing consumption of data. It is somewhat costlier for many average people. But people are investing heavily on the internet by buying data packs and unlimited connection. It is pretty obvious that free service will attract and create huge engagement for the service. This will benefit the company due to larger conversion rate and telecom companies as well because of people preferring their service.
Zero-Rating and Free Services
Many big internet companies tie up with telecom companies to provide users with free service to their site. In such collaboration, people don’t need to pay for mobile data when they access certain websites. The telecom operators charge the users when they go and use other services though. For example, Ncell doesn’t charge people when they use Twitter but when they click a link on it and go to their site, the user is charged.
For consumers, it looks good and for telecom operators, it is a great deal. Telecommunication companies get money from the deal and also get more users in their network. Customers use free websites and don’t use other sites because it costs money. When users leave the walled garden of zero rating, it is hard. There are many other cons to this as well. Only big giant companies can do this and new small sites can’t afford to do such collaboration.
Many people would argue, that free internet service is great for everyone. Yes, it is but they need to look at the whole system. It would be amazing if telecom operators give access to all websites, apps for free on their cellular data system and not just for selected ones.
Maintaining Net Neutrality
People of countries like USA, India, etc are fighting for Net Neutrality. It is a concept where all ISP should serve all types of content without biasing the creator, website or company. If these types of schemes become more active and people become addicted to them, it will be very bad for this beautiful internet. All of us want easy, open and unrestricted access to each website and services without bias.
Many telecom operators and ISP have lobbied to remove net neutrality. It is because if Net neutrality isn’t maintained, media companies can pay huge money to these service providers. After that, they will serve their content faster and for free. Other sites may also be served slower if things get worse. This way people will obviously and always prefer those sites. This means the end of startup and open choices. Once we get a taste of free things we stop visiting other sites because our providers will charge money. Thus the new websites will never get a chance to grow.
Benefits of free services
As we said earlier, we are an advocate of the free Internet actually. Many companies have plans to release satellites, balloons, and other equipment to provide such service. That is great and it can have many positive impacts on the global society. Getting Wikipedia for free is awesome because it provides the biggest collection of information for free. Okay, let’s accept that few of them are beneficial and entertaining. But the fact is the targetted people or demographics isn’t even able to buy the devices and pay for internet connection in the first place.
A term “Express Lane” is used in this context rampantly. Many media companies want to do the same, they would pay internet companies to serve us their product at a higher speed than others. This will force many other sites to be in slower lane and people will be apparently drawn towards premium services. Some companies may even increase and segregate pricing.
Analysis, prediction, and Solutions
Many people might still be thinking, “I don’t use the internet much so I don’t have to worry about paying them”. But things are a bit complicated here. Suppose these king of activities increase and one day you are using your free search engine and you see many links of results. It is sure that you will go to the site that isn’t charged by your telecom. You will not go to other sites in fear of being charged. If this happens, other good sites and services can never grow. The Internet becomes a walled garden of big corporates only.
There is fear that big media houses may pay the ISP and make their services extra fast. When this happens service from other sites feel slower. The ISP also might make special package like Social Media package, Work Site, Education package and even charge extra. If the goal is to help people to get connected, then deals must be done with telecommunication authorities to reduce the tariff and provide internet cheap or free. After that users will decide where to go and what to see.
The possibility and benefits will then be limitless. The NTA and other companies haven’t raised or lobbied about this matter. But we believe Nepal will do its best in protecting the rights of its citizens and keeping Net Neutrality alive.