Digital India dream cannot be achieved without the open Internet, says letter sent to the prime minister
GN Bureau | April 22, 2015
India is one of the top countries that gives birth to startups and nurtures them. Net Neutrality is extremely important for this community of innovators. Without physical space the small units can launch their businesses online and sell their products.
READ: Rahul Gandhi on Net Neutrality
However, discrimination on the basis of cost or speed over net will take out their advantage and eventually kill the spirit of net entrepreneurship. In fact, India has huge sum dedicated to startups in union budget and many private investors have pledged millions to seed this community.
READ: All that you should know about Net Neutrality
In an open letter to prime minister Narendra Modi, members of startups have sought Modi’s intervention to preserve the startup ecosystem.
COLUMN: Let India decide on the future of internet
The letter is also marked to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry.
The complete letter:
Shri Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India
Subject: Protect the Open Internet in India
We are writing to you as founders and stakeholders of Indian technology startups.
Each of us set out on this entrepreneurial journey with a dream to create a world-leading technology company from India. We dream that an Indian startup may one day become the next Google, Facebook or Amazon. We know that you share our dream.
We share another dream with you, the dream of a Digital India. We dream of this as Indians, and also as businesses that wish to serve a fast-growing Indian internet market.
These dreams cannot be achieved without the open Internet.
Preserving the Startup Ecosystem
The Internet is a fountain of creativity because it is a single, global market where anyone can offer a product and be reachable by every user. This results in global competition and exchange of ideas, and drives innovation and progress.
If startups or online service providers had to first obtain a government license, or pay each Internet Service Provider in the world (there are tens of thousands of them), this global market, competition and innovation would disappear.
This is what we stand to lose if telecom operators are allowed to strike deals to favour some online services over their competitors. Under these deals, companies may pay the ISP to make their competitors’ websites inaccessible, slower or more expensive to access than their own.
These practices, if allowed, will exclude promising startups from the Internet and end our dream of seeing them flourish. The western companies that dominate the Indian internet ecosystem today will use their deep pockets to perpetuate their position. The few startups that can afford it will be forced to find growth in foreign markets before they can return to India with the funds to pay ISPs, while the rest shut shop.
This would be a catastrophic outcome for our startup ecosystem.
Building a Digital India
India has the fastest growing internet user base in the world, but over 100 crore Indians still don’t use the Internet.
Bringing them online is not merely a question of infrastructure or affordability; there should first be demand for Internet access. No-one will begin using the Internet just because access is cheap or even free, if all the content and applications are in foreign languages and don’t solve their problems.
These content and applications will not be created by the large western companies that dominate the Internet today, but by Indian startups like us. We can only do this if there is a level playing field, freedom to innovate, and yes, competition to drive us. Which of our apps solves these problems best is a decision for each user to make, and not for a corporate gatekeeper.
As consumer demand rises, and the profitable market for data will drive an expansion in infrastructure. Cellular operators claim, contradicting their own annual reports, that providing internet access is not profitable enough to expand infrastructure. The fact that they haven’t increased prices and continue to advertize their internet plans heavily show that these claims are untrue.
The key to attaining a Digital India is to let Indian startups experiment and build the must-have apps for the next 100 crore Internet users.
Zero Rating is Harmful Discrimination
Some telecom operators and large foreign companies try to use Digital India against the open Internet. They attempt to justify a form of discrimination called zero-rating by saying it allows them to offer “free internet for the poor”. We must point out that these offerings are neither “free”, “the internet” nor “for the poor”.
They are not free but bundled with a paid mobile connection, just as when a toothbrush is given “free” with toothpaste, it is really priced together as a bundle. They don’t even pretend to provide Internet access — the Internet has 100 crore websites and the freedom to start your own, while these offers only have a few dozen cherry-picked websites. Finally, these plans are not marketed to the poor or those who currently lack access, but only to existing internet users of competing operators.
Some argue that even with these flaws a few bundled websites are better than none. On the contrary, permitting these plans will cause serious harm — as a proprietary alternative to the public Internet, it will slow down Internet adoption and delay Digital India. It must be noted that websites of government departments, educational institutions, healthcare providers and others are not accessible in these plans. In addition, these offers will also cause a collapse of competition as crores of Indians will be locked into a few cherry-picked services, resulting in a decline in quality of service and progress.
There are other, equally economical ways to offer non-internet users a bundled data plan to get acquainted with the Internet, that does not take away their freedom.
Net Neutrality is in the Public Interest
Our desire for a level playing field on the Internet is shared overwhelmingly by consumers. Over the last two weeks over 10 lakh of India’s best-informed citizens have written to TRAI to ask it to uphold equality on the Internet.
Many foreign nations share these views as well. Several, most recently Brazil, have passed laws to ensure “network neutrality” or non-discrimination by ISPs; many more countries like the US and European Union are in the process of doing so.
The Way Forward
We sincerely wish that our government would also protect the open, competitive Internet in India. We request that network neutrality is enforced and all discriminatory practices by ISPs are forbidden — including zero-rating, throttling, blocking, paid prioritization, toll-gating and others. We also hope that the regressive proposal to license online services will be dropped.
We, the startups that are at the forefront of creating the next wave of online applications, request you to take action now. We need you to protect our nation’s innovation ecosystem.
Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad
Minister of Communications and Information Technology
Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman
Minister of State for Commerce and Industry
Maya Kodnani, a BJP leader who was the MLA from Naroda when this locality on the outskirts of Ahmedabad witnessed one of the most gruesome episodes during the Gujarat riots of 2002, was acquitted by the Gujarat High Court on Friday. Her acquittal in the Naroda Patiya massacre case is only a sequel to
The number of civic complaints with BMC has increased from 61,910 in 2015 to 92,329 in 2017, which is 49% in two years. A report titled ‘Civic Issues Registered by Citizens and Deliberations done by Municipal Councillors in Mumbai’ released by Praja Foundation has found some interesting facts a
Atishi Marlena is among the nine AAP functionaries who were dismissed by the union home ministry asserting that their posts were created without the approval of the centre. Marlena, served as education advisor of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led government in Delhi. While she was intrumental in improving the
The Fortune magazine has named three Indians – lawyer Indira Jaising, industrialist Mukesh Ambani and architect Balkrishna V Doshi – among the world’s greatest fifty leaders.
Remember Kardashev scale? For the uninitiated, it’s a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy it is able to use for communication. We will get to its unconventional relevance to the big urban questions at the end, but just keep it a
Out of 1580 MPs and MLAs with criminal cases, 48 (three MPs and 45 MLAs) have declared cases related to crime against women. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and