Logging on right

  • Madhusheel Arora, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 13:21 IST

The internet is magic for most of us, with unlimited mobile information, images and videos available on the click of a button. In 2014, the heads of almost all major corporations (Facebook, Amazon et al) that have internet as a ‘major raw material’ in their business plans visited India and impressed upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi that going digital was the way to go and there were suggestions that internet access is, in fact, a human right.

However, before this happens in any tangible manner and more people get onto the internet bandwagon, an interesting battle is being played out. As with all great inventions and discoveries, societies in almost all countries are witnessing or will soon see a power struggle over taking control of the internet, a near-impossible task it must be said.

A telecom major’s recent decision to charge (later the decision was reversed) for using hitherto free services and applications from its data-pack offering can be seen as a logical extension of this battle.

Be as it may, these companies have taken their eyes off their core business of operating and building the infrastructure for the internet traffic.

Consider this, there has been a concerted effort to take the delivery and processing of all essential services online in the region for long and the government uses the internet to offer several services. Will internet service providers (ISPs) demand extra money from the government?

Over the course of this year, greater clarity will emerge on whether the internet can actually be considered to be a right, or in fact barriers to its use come up.

An issue that will grab headlines will be Net Neutrality — the idea that the end-consumer (for the internet) is indeed free to choose what content he wants to surf and when. Everyone with an internet connection should have equal access to all legal content online, including video, music, email, photos, social networks and maps, is the central idea.

With all these rumblings, it also begs the question whether e-mail will be paid 10 years from now? The questions can be many. In these times, when the government is investing in creating free Wi-Fi zones, it is imperative that the internet remains as free as air, the primary aim being communication which is a right in most countries.

The challenge

Besides the debate over the worldwide web as a right, another concern is that the internet encourages entrepreneurs to confuse the medium with the result and cut corners. Take the case of Uber, the American company in the eye of the storm, after a woman in Delhi was allegedly raped in one of its cabs. While researching for a piece in September, I had asked its representative what precautions it took to prevent precisely such crimes in vehicles it provided. While he did say that the verification of drivers was done etc, the reply emphasised that at the end of the day, Uber was a technology company. “Our business is the application that connects a passenger to driver and that’s it.”

This insular business approach that takes little note of users’ concerns will remain a substantial challenge for entrepreneurs and business managers across the world.

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