Net Neutrality!

Is Net Neutrality the way?

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Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

 For example, imagine someone using a paid service from a website, regularly. That person does a lot of purchases on the site. If there is no net neutrality, the service provider will have the authority, in connivance with the web site, to allow faster access to large customers! It is like mother giving additional cookie to favourite child! In certain cases, they may block access to you! To avoid such situation Net Neutrality is essential.

Discussion on this subject has started recently in the US. Internet was born with Neutrality and US government under Trump for their own reasons want to end Net Neutrality. Main thing is that nobody “owns” internet! Internet is a service created by scientists which has changed the world beyond imagination. It is a rare service which is independent of language, nation, cast and creed!

A couple of years back Facebook tried to bypass Net Neutrality with a concept called Free Basics, in India. They said after arrangement with some service providers, if a user has fully used his usage limit, he will still be allowed use of Facebook. This is the first step away from Net Neutrality. If this were allowed, then service providers would have made their own rules slowly and allowed access as was beneficial to them. Government of India came down heavily on them and stopped free Basic from rolling out.

Today there is a news that in the USA, that FCC has repealed all the laws set by Obama administration to keep Net Neutrality. Is this the beginning of war on the net? Does it mean that there will be rich man’s internet and poor man’s internet? Does this mean that if you pay more fees then you will be able to sit in the first-class lounge?

People who are for non-neutrality argue differently. They claim that they will provide basic services to all in the same way; however, those who pay more money will get services even if their package has been used up. But what about those who already have unlimited package? Will the speed remain same for them beyond “fair” usage? Will they get lesser priority beyond a certain limit? Who will decide fair usage? Once the discrimination is allowed then it will be impossible for anyone to track what certain sites do or what certain service providers do? Agencies cannot track these misdemeanors.

In Portugal, something similar is already happening. Even though they are under EU laws, each country has its own bit of freedom. Portugal is allowing their ISP’s to play around a bit. Large ISPs have given every indication that the idea of freedom costing extra isn’t too far from their ideal. And abusing a lack of broadband competition to force users to shell out additional funds to access to the content and services of their choice isn’t too far off of what has already happened;  AT&T had decided to block Facetime from working unless users shelled out for more expensive plans, or Verizon’s had decided to charge users $10 more just to avoid arbitrary video throttling. This is going to happen! 

All these years internet is being treated on par with Electricity, Water usage. For using these services, one did not have to do anything special. If you used more electricity or water, you paid more. These utilities never say, we will give you xxx units only. You pay more then only you get additional usage. Or since you are not our priority customer, water pressure will be low at your end.

I feel that jury is still out. But with USA formally declaring internet as “Non-Neutral”, we will know the real meaning of the same over a period. Portugal has done it, but they have done it in a small way and discretely. There is another argument for “Non-Neutral” internet; the proponents of this are saying that there will be large investments in internet technology because of new policy. According to them there are “serious” users and “non-serious” users. Majority are of the second variety. For them probably internet will continue to be available as it is available today. Serious users may not mind paying a little more for additional, better, faster and un-restricted services. On the other side Netflix has already shown how people love to use it. So they already have an upper hand on the ISP’s!

Friends, I am non-serious user of internet. Will it really matter to me about net neutrality? Honestly, I do not know and only time can tell. New internet order has just started today, formally. So let’s wait and observe.

I am getting a Toyota Prius!

One of the most important aspect of human civilization is that nobody can stop the technological advancements. Technology, the right one, is simply unstoppable. Humans do not change and they most of the time feel that so and so technology cannot become popular. There are very few visionaries who can guess, predict what can happen after a couple of decades. Initially when any technology comes the cost of its implementation as well as usage is always very high. This cost does come down with increased volume.

Let us consider the scenario in solar energy globally. Germany recently on a particular day produced, 85% of its total electricity produced, by Solar. The energy market in Germany runs like a trade market and the rate at which power is bought by distribution companies is based on demand and supply. On that particular day the rate went below zero! California on one day recently produced 67% of its electricity by Solar. US being a very large country will take a long time to reach Germany’s level as a country but it will happen in pockets. India & China are galloping fast towards solar energy in a big way.

If we think about steam engines and trains, initially people were just curious and felt that trains cannot compete with carts pulled by animals. Once the fear in people’s mind reduced, time of travel decreased and more and more people started travelling in trains and rest as they say is history. My first travel to USA was in 1981 and I had paid US $ 1076/ for return journey. Even today we pay hardly more than that in Dollar terms, for return ticket to USA. Why this happened? Because of safer, faster, larger airplanes increased the volume.

Cell phone is another classic example of technology that made it a disruptive device! When I first got my cell in late 90’s the cell phone was quite heavy, almost ugly, and it cost Rs.16/ minute to receive and make calls! In twenty years Cell phones have become sleek, they are much more powerful than computers specs ten years ago! Ten years ago GB was a word very rarely used even in computers. On top of that making calls is now free! Technologically in 20 years cell phones have gone places! Who would have thought of these changes? In the initial phase cell phone was the so called rich person’s toy. The beauty is that land line telephones have been there for more than 100 years doing same basic work that cell phones do, talking to each other. But other than becoming sleeker, land line phones did not change much in technology. Hence the landline phone population is on the wane world over.

Next classic battle that I visualize is between IC engine cars and Electric/Hybrid cars. The usual naysayers are saying that the current car companies are so powerful that they will just not allow this to happen. What are the parameters that will come into picture? Current volume of Electric/Hybrid cars is miniscule and their yearly volumes are nothing to write home about. So what is it that is needed for the picture to reverse, if it does! Fuel costs is one important parameter. Petrol/Diesel costs have come down from highs of US$ 150/ per barrel and have stabilized around US $50/. The original cartel led by Arab countries is finding it difficult to keep high rates due to new people coming in, huge American & Canadian reserves which were not known even ten years back, have suddenly become available. Their cost of production of extracting oil is also coming down. The fear of Petroleum products simply getting exhausted from the world has gone. So fuel cost may not be THE thing that will trouble current cars. But on the other hand, the cost of producing electricity is definitely going down fast. As more and more countries including India go strongly after solar energy, this cost will come down further. The countries which have lot sunlight round the year can become major players in producing next “Petroleum” for cars. Along with this wind energy is also playing a major role. One thing is for sure compared to petroleum products “Sunlight & Wind” are definitely never going to get exhausted. What all this will also do is pollution levels caused by burning Petroleum products will also come down. On top of this when more and more Electric/Hybrid cars get into use pollution levels will further go down.

Largest component of Electric/Hybrid cars is battery pack. Tesla is already building a Giga battery factory in Nevada where they will be able produce battery packs for five hundred thousand cars a year, at naturally very low cost. Already, Tesla is talking of producing cars that will be only slightly more expensive than sedans. Another limitation currently is the distance the car can travel with one charge. In cell phones  already fast charging systems have come, so I am sure it will happen in Electric cars too! So maybe when you have coffee break or wash room break, you can recharge your batteries. Once these cars are reasonably priced people may use such cars the way we use scooters in India, to travel smaller distances. For last hundred years there has been not much improvement in battery storage technology, compared to other fields and same is the case with IC engine cars. I am sure in batteries the break through is just round the corner! If automotive technology had improved as much as electronics, a car would have travelled round the globe in one liter of fuel!

If we summarize this battle, cost of production of fuel (electricity) to charge the electric cars is going down, cost of battery packs is going down ( it is like engine price going down), battery pack capacity will slowly start going up like some Tesla cars go beyond 350 km per charge, pollution improvement is a bonus. On the other side Volvo has already declared that they will not produce diesel cars from 2023 because cost of using technology for pollution compliance will go up exponentially. Volkswagen has already claimed that they will not produce IC engine cars beyond 2030. In India Suzuki & Toyota have joined hands to manufacture hybrid cars for Indian market. Suzuki and Toshiba have joined hands in India to build Lithium Ion battery mega plant. In USA GM and Ford also have big plans for electric cars. BMW i3 model electric car was quite visible when I last travelled to USA. Along with that a lot work is being done by Google and Apple in driverless car. I feel that controlling an electric car with computers will be much easier than IC engine cars! Will humanity be able to stop Electric/Hybrid car technology? Only time will tell. But in the end right technology will win!

So my next car is definitely going to be a Toyota Hybrid Prius! There is small issue of money in the bank but I will generously accept it, if someone wants to gift me a Prius! I will put big donor name sticker on the car! Happy (electric) motoring!