Thank you, PM Modi: India needs free access to the internet more than it needs Free Basics

On Thursday morning we read reports of displeasure being expressed by the PMO on the way Facebook has responded to TRAI’s consultation paper on differential pricing. According to sources, quoted in an Economic Times report, the PMO has set up a ‘high-powered committee’ which will be headed by the Union Minister for Communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad and several other ministers.

In many ways, this is a welcome sign. And it wouldn’t be wrong to say, long due. A few months ago, during a townhall at the Facebook HQ in the Silicon Valley, PM Narendra Modi got emotional and cried while talking about his mother. That indeed, is a very emotional moment to say the least. And while there may be no direct apparent connection, there is a clear link. Between the PM’s initiative to get India’s perception changing in the global arena, and his focus on start-ups. And before we could put it away in the past, Zuckerberg showed up in Delhi.

Mark Zuckerberg. File photo. PTI

Mark Zuckerberg. File photo. PTI

Every Indian mother has a right to see her sons and daughters rise high. Create impactful businesses and surge ahead to scale the ambitions of a young India. We are a nation that belongs to the youth. Statisticians depict India’s age demographics as a sloped pyramid – essentially we have many babies to fuel the economy’s growth for years to come. In contrast, the United States has a flabby pyramid, which will soon form an hourglass. In simple terms, evolved markets such as the United States would have a significant percentage of citizens in their 40s and 50s with fewer youth.

With a natural advantage as an active population, the key catalyst to our economic growth for the generations ahead is to equip the youth of the nation with as much opportunities and freedom as possible. And if they are to create businesses that scale up to be multi-billion dollar companies, then they would undoubtedly need a level playing field. The same level playing field that garage start-ups of the Silicon Valley enjoyed. Apple, Google, Yahoo, YouTube – the list could go on and on. And we haven’t gotten to the investment circle just yet. The basic access to the internet, which has been expressed vocally, and through numerous campaigns globally, is the need of the hour.

At the risk of using a cliché, the internet isn’t technology anymore. It’s an ecosystem, a platform for ambitious minds to thrive and exploit a billion opportunities. Times are changing and the internet isn’t just for learning, leisure or entertainment. Internet is undeniably the source for livelihood for millions. It may come across as luxury for leisure, or a far-fetched need much lower in priority.

But if the internet is used the way it is supposed to, it could bring in roti, kapda, and makaan in the lives of a billion citizens in India. Interestingly, that’s exactly what every government of the land aspires to do. Entrepreneurs such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma have stood up for the right of citizens like them who have been able to scale up and become billion dollar businesses. In addition, founders of start-ups including Zomato and Cleartrip also wrote to the PM urging him to ‘save the internet’. It wouldn’t be fair to restrict the proponents of a free and fair internet to a select few names.

It’s been encouraging to see TRAI stand up to Facebook while dealing with it on the issue of Free Basics. And with the PM’s office expressing its dissatisfaction, it’s a clear indication that the voice of citizens are being heard loud and clear.

For more stories on technology, visit Tech2.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2016 17:42 PM

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