Searching for Balance between Net Neutrality’s Economic and Idealism

3 mins read
May 13, 2015

It’s been almost a month since Facebook and Indosat introduced Internet.org in Indonesia. Unlike the response drawn outside which tends to “attack” Facebook with the net neutrality issue, its presence in Indonesia is more “welcomed”. The regulators address the economic aspect of the program more than the technical side, as the project is regarded to put partnering operators in a great loss.

The implementation of Internet.org in Indonesia

Internet.org is a program which aims to enhance the adoption of internet among two third of world population. Facebook, which has covered one third of the population, attempt to “sponsor” those who have yet connected. In Indonesia, it’s difficult to justify whether the program really aims to reach those who aren’t connected or not, as it’s only available for Indosat and Android users.

Something that idealists are complaining about is the belief that each and every website or service should get equal treatment. According to them, there shouldn’t be services that are treated differently in the form of additional cost. The only cost spent should be the data package payment by consumers.

Based on this belief, Internet.org clearly doesn’t pass the net neutrality test. Facebook covers the access of certain services included in Internet.org’s mobile app, although later on the company open the opportunity for services to join the program.

Kelase and Tokopedia are two local services involved in the program since the beginning. Kelase’s Co-Founder and COO Winastwan Gora told us that they’d been contacted by Facebook in June 2014 and offered to join Internet.org. In July 2014, they signed the NDA and proceeded the partnership with Facebook and Ericsson as Internet.org’s partner, including during the visit of Facebook’s Director at Kelase’s partnering schools. He admitted that he didn’t have any clue regarding how long they’re gonna keep the collaboration running.

Gora personally expected that Internet.org may help more people getting to know Kelase much better and start utilizing its services.

Aulia Masna, tech enthusiast and Addiction.ID’s Editor, argued that Internet.org seems like Facebook’s good will to enable as many global citizens as possible to access information and internet at no cost at all. However, he continued, when we visit Facebook Zero, the program was yet ready for further accesses, such as checking photos for instance. The consumers who want to have the access must subscribe additional data package, thus the implementation of this Internet.org becomes a kind of teaser which attracts people to be a subscriber.

“While in the U.S net neutrality is all about access speed, in Indonesia the challenge lies within the access itself, it seems to be unfair because there are websites that can be accessed without quota limitation. For those who can’t afford it, then, their internet access would be limited,” Masna commented.

Understanding and management of net neutrality in Indonesia

Indonesia, as most of countries on earth, is unfamiliar with net neutrality. Besides the U.S, only Brazil, Chile, and Netherland that have regulated about the concept. The regulation basically protects consumers from the obligation to pay various rates to ISP and operators in order to access online services.

Various government bodies, including the Ministry of Communication and Information, only address the economic (and morality) aspect of the internet implementation. They believe that (foreign) internet services are here merely for the sake of the money. The Minister of Communication and Information once stated, “I told Indosat, just stop if they didn’t like the deal. Don’t give the access. This can’t be given for free.”

Operators have frankly rejected net neutrality. Association of Telecommunication Providers all over Indonesia (ATSI)’s Head and Indosat’s CEO Alexander Rusli, claimed, “We have proposed a proposal to the regulators regarding the business model with Over The Top (OTT). The main point of the proposal was that we trust operators’ network. It should be equally beneficial if they want to partner with us. The point is, we reject net neutrality.”

As Masna mentioned above, the main challenge in Indonesia is the limited internet access. Investment on the establishment of optical fiber network, 3G, or even 4G network isn’t that affordable, not to mention the fact that Indonesia is an archipelago with mountains/high terrain and water at various location.

Although data collection will soon become operators’ biggest revenue source, this is regarded not to be enough to cover the investment they spent. The intrusive ads issue was one of ways the operators use to add more revenue. They don’t hesitate to charge OTT services for better network quality.

Without clear and strict regulation, it’s difficult to mediate between net neutrality’s economic interests and idealism. In order to prevent any dispute from happening, the government should start the initiative (in form of regulation) about what can (and can’t) be charged by ISP and operators, both for consumers and OTT services. The regulation must act as a mediator which serves protection for the consumers and OTT services, without putting operators in a loss.

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