Last week Google announced it will remove its YouTube service from Amazon’s Fire TV streaming devices, as well as its Echo Show smart-home device, effective January 1, 2018. The announcement is the most recent in a months-long feud between the tech giants. Google’s move is a retaliation against Amazon refusal to carry Google’s products like the Chromecast or Google Home in its online store. When big tech companies compete in almost every space, this sort of tech war is inevitable. This author discusses the need for the next phase of regulation to not just involve content but also commerce – especially in virtual goods.
It is pretty easy to understand things in the offline world but not so in a digital labyrinth.
You walk into a private business establishment, usually a 5-star hotel, and there is a sign that proclaims: “Rights of admission reserved.” This is usually aimed at keeping out the less genteel from the elegantly affluent, or to prevent what they call “untoward incidents.”
But what if the place was a public establishment, like an airport or a railway station? You cannot obviously pass off your discrimination as discretion or privacy in such places.
Strangely and interestingly, the Internet is becoming a place where practices of a certain kind to keep some people out is not going to be easy – especially if they are competitors. This is because the Internet is increasingly a public good, much like railway networks in most parts of the world. This has obvious implications for regulators such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Competition Commission of India (CCI). I do believe the chairpersons of these guard dogs need to meet other occasionally over some productive lunches.
Events over the past weeks suggest that telecom giants, as well as near-monopolies on the World Wide Web, are straining at the leashes of Net Neutrality – the business of keeping content and commerce separate from carriage on the Internet so that there is no discrimination between packets of data.
TRAI has clearly underlined the public character of the Internet and decidedly batted for Net Neutrality with its ruling in November.
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