I am in favour of net neutrality and not in favour of zero rating, whether paid or unpaid. Further, I support the deregulation of the telecom sector so that competition between telecom companies is a viable check on their commercial activities and such that users can freely switch to competitors.
Now that my position is out of the way, I also have to acknowledge that I am making an exception to a general principle of reducing government regulation and preferring market forces and competition to regulation.
In the context of the current debate on Net Neutrality and Zero Rating, the most compelling reason for my choice has been provided by Metcalfe’s law and the public utility argument. On Net Neutrality, I believe there are a number of reasons why telecom companies should not be allowed to discriminate traffic on the basis of source and they fall in one of two buckets:
- Telecom companies should not be allowed to censor or impact free speech of users. Giving them the ability to block or throttle traffic to encourage payment should be disallowed on this count.
- Telecom companies should not be allowed to offer preferential treatment to traffic based on payment because this will reduce innovation and competition and, in particular, harms the interests of domestic product and service start-ups and internet companies.
The importance of these two is multiplied by Metcalfe’s law – that such changes by any one telecom company has a effect across the entire public network, that is the internet, and reduces the value of the network.
This is exactly why I oppose Zero Rating as well, whether paid or unpaid – it tends towards creating pockets of disconnected users per telecom company and while this is valuable for the telecom company and the applications and sites that are zero-rated, it reduces the total utility of the public internet, as a whole.
PS: Karthik Shashidhar has a much better articulation of this that influenced my position and which you must read. I am indebted to him for his clarity of thought.