If the government committee that is wrestling with questions surrounding net neutrality has its way, WhatsApp, Viber and Skype will not be as free as before.
According to one of its recommendations, domestic calls made on these internet-based applications should be charged. International calls made on them could however continue to be free; so could instant messaging.
What does this development mean to people who see – or, would like to see – the internet and its allied services as an unfettered and free tool for communication?
“This regulatory move confirms one of our fears. The internet is only going to become expensive in this country,” says Sorav Jain, a social media and digital marketing consultant. “At this point of time, charges for data usage by most of the network providers are already heavy and on top of that, charging for calls made through platforms like Viber and WhatsApp is not acceptable. If such charges are applied, the government should also ensure costs of data packs and broadband are brought down and a balance is struck.”
V.P. Senthil Kumar, who runs a software business, says this recommendation, if accepted, will not go down well with youngsters.
“Youngsters are drawn to these internet platforms for their free calls. If the provision is removed, they will resent the move. Outside of this demographic, there are people who actively avoid calling on WhatsApp or Viber, because it’s free and therefore, sends out a wrong signal. I, for one, would never call on WhatsApp or Viber,” explains Mr. Senthil.
Generation Y (those born in the early 1980s) use the internet heavily to connect and communicate. But not as much as Generation Z (those born after 1995), who are digital natives. How does Gen Z view this development?
Aditi Narayanan, 18 years old and a student of chartered accountancy, says, “We prefer to interact with our friends more by texting than calling. Calls are reserved for emergencies and formal interactions with those we are not familiar with. The appeal of these applications lies in other features, which include free international calls and the provision for forming groups. As long as these features are offered free, their appeal will remain intact.”
Mr. Jain believes such moves have an implication on the growth of internet in rural India.
“Such regulations and charges will make the internet less rural-friendly,” he says.