Net neutrality is a hot button topic in the United States today. Few issues have aroused the kind of public reaction than the various attempts by large conglomerates and phone carriers to push legislation that would dismantle the basic principles governing the Internet. The presence or absence of net neutrality has the potential to affect consumers, startups, ISPs, media companies, software developers and practically every entity that uses the Internet.
With emerging economies like India and China catching up to the West in terms of Internet infrastructure, net neutrality debates are becoming common there as well. Just this month, one of the biggest mobile carriers in India – Bharti Airtel – announced plans to start charging extra for VoIP calls made on their networks. Though the company said that this move would improve conditions on their networks, it was nothing more than a blatant attempt to stem the growing tide of consumers using VoIP apps for calling instead of using their carrier minutes.
Rather than improve their infrastructure to handle the extra load on data networks, these companies are looking to charge consumers extra for the same bandwidth just because it is used differently. Imagine the uproar if the power company charged consumers more for using the television or washing machine. It is no wonder that consumers have protested against phone operators charging more for VoIP or other kinds of specific data.
The situation is not new as American carriers have also attempted to do the same in the past. At present, the company has backtracked on its plans in the face of public opposition as well as the threat of investigations by the regulators. However it is likely that mobile carriers will try again in the future as they stand to lose the most from the transition to VoIP.
India’s net neutrality debates are extremely important in determining the future of VoIP. Emerging countries will probably be the fastest growing markets for VoIP in the next decade. Apart from the sheer numbers of potential users that would find themselves cut off from VoIP simply because of high Internet costs, the growth of VoIP even in the corporate sector would be stifled. Before long we would be looking at an Internet that is bifurcated into fast and slow lanes and where companies will have to pay ISPs in order to reach consumers.
A breakdown of net neutrality principles in India, the United States, Europe and China will set VoIP back by decades. Hopefully legislators will wake up and preserve net neutrality instead of stifling technological innovation and competition.