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BW Businessworld

Net Neutrality? The Real Issue is Access Neutrality

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The ongoing discussion over net neutrality has polarised India. It has made us reassess our sense of propriety with regard to access to the Internet. We are either for or against it – both sides outraging against each other.
 
It’s time to take a perspective-building philosophical step back and reapproach the issue without any parochial biases that might have crept in.
 
Let’s begin with the ideal end and think back. We as individuals and groups want to be happy and fulfilled. Happiness comes from freedom to make life choices around being, doing and relating.
 
Freedom to make life choices comes from permission-less access to resources.
 
Essential resources include adequate air, water, food, life pursuits and social connects. Access isn’t just physical access anymore; it’s also economic, intellectual and social. For seamless access one must be free to reach the resource physically, afford it, know enough to understand the what-why-how of it and have the social sanction to use it. It’s like crossing four gates. Any one gate can obstruct access.
 
In an ideal world, everyone has seamless access to adequate quantities of life-essentials.
 
We know life isn’t about just the essentials today; it is also about the non-essential desirables. In fact in the material world we live, non-essentials have acquired a disproportionate significance.
 
The current access formats are all right when it comes to the non-essentials but must they apply to even the essentials?
 
Today we buy most life-essentials - food, water, life pursuits and social connects. This is because a minority has been allowed to own and control them. And if this minority has its way we would soon be paying to even breathe. Sounds ridiculous? What’s more ridiculous is that the majority might not be outraged by it when it happens; like we aren’t outraged paying for water today.
 
Who should own the essentials? If you ask the minority that runs the economy and the politics, and therefore our lives, they themselves are best placed to own the essentials.
 
It perfectly aligns with their stated or unstated agenda – gain influence by appropriating control of most essential resources that the world just can’t do without; be the chokepoint between demand and supply, and monetise the deficiency. It puts them on an upward spiral that takes them towards gaining absolute influence.
 
Thanks to this model, we are where we are today - a minority enjoys access to disproportionate resources of the world at the cost of the majority. Most resources of the world are spent on satisfying needs of those who can only economically afford them, not morally.
 
Internet – the open and non-discriminating access format has come along as a disruptor of the exploitative model. It has democratized access to opportunities without discriminating between entities.
 
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The opportunistic minority didn’t care for it much till they realized they were being disrupted. So just like they have gone about cornering the essentials in the past – land, oil etc., they have begun a concerted effort of greedily grabbing the new essential – the internet.
 
The majority has seen the amazing explosion of individual and collective energies that internet has triggered. And now that the majority has seen it, it will find it extremely difficult to unsee it.
 
Internet and air, unlike water and food can’t be allowed to be owned and controlled by the minority even if the minority seems well intentioned. The obscene influence will not allow them to remain so.
 
Access is an ecosystemic common; it must remain neutral; always. And for that to happen, it must always be controlled by no one, or all, or else the majority, but never ever a minority.

The author, Ranjan Malik is an Innovation speaker and consultant; Partner & Director at Erehwon Innovation Consulting, he can be reached at [email protected]


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