I believe, Obama is broadly- but not entirely- right about net neutrality. ISPs – or telecom operators who are the bigger ISPs in most cases- should not in general be able to discriminate between different types of content or its creators.
However, the problem is when net neutrality is applied to wireless networks where capacity is a bigger issue because of spectrum scarcity. Wireless networks simply do not have capacities comparable to cable/fibre networks. India is a classic case where operators have a fraction of the spectrum that their peers in other parts of the world.
Developing countries need last investments in infrastructure. Net neutrality may be counterproductive if this became the excuse for operators not to expand networks to the large regions which are still uncovered.
In any case, there are several cases where content players, like Facebook, Google etc,- understandably supporters of net neutrality- are working with mobile operators to protect their commercial interests. They have arrived at arrangements, across the world, that would not be strictly in line with network neutrality.
The problem with net neutrality is at the edges. We all want free movement on roads but yet, can accept a limited number of toll roads. Similarly, we must be willing to accept that a fundamentalist position on net neutrality might hurt those whose rights we want to protect.
This is a challenge for regulators. They will need to balance consumer interest in content with their huge stake in growth and capacity of networks.
- By Mahesh Uppal