There are multiple offers of free Net access these days. But is there a price to pay?
By Anand Parthasrathy
Bangalore, April 13 3015: That earthy American saying -- "There's no such thing as a free lunch!" -- seems worth recalling, while lay users find themselves enticed daily, with offers of free Internet access on mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Net access remains a recurring additional expense for most of us -- so any chance to get it for free, is worth a look. But can you get something for nothing?
Last week, there was much talk about so called 'Net Neutrality' -- keeping Internet access equal for all sites and all users -- and like the Trojan priest who warned against Greeks bearing free gifts, many commentators have been warning consumers to shun offers of seemingly free Net access.
Here is a guide to the offerings and the issues. You can decide what works for you.
Reliance Communications customers in six states - Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra - ( through a partnership with Facebook) are being offered free access to some 40+ selected sites of India-interest, as well as search through Bing. This offering is made possible by Internet.org, a consortium where Facebook is joined by Opera ( a browser), Qualcomm, Mediatek, Nokia and Ericsson ( all telecom solution providers). They have signed up a select number of the many thousands of Net sites in their free offering. The point made by the nay sayers, is that they are limiting your view of the Internet. Their search engine in Bing -- so they won't be linking to Google. If you are not particular who does the search for you, this may be no big deal.
Last week, Airtel launched a Net marketing platform called Airtel Zero. End users will pay zero rupees for access to select mobile apps and Internet sites. It is the app owners who pay Airtel to feature their products and link their sites. This also drew yelps of protest from Net Neutrality champions who sketched scenarios where one big online retailer could sign up with Airtel and ensure that it scoops up all the business because competitive retail sites are excluded.
DataWind, the makers of the original Aakash tablet has been routinely bundling free Internet access for the first year, with its PocketSurfer phones and UbiSlate tablets -- first with a tie-up with BSNL and latterly with Reliance. As far as I can make out, these are straight forward deals, where Net access is bundled with the subscription to a particular telecom service - and there are no other limitations.
Amazon, makers of the Kindle e-book reader, came up last year with a unique offering where free worldwide Internet access is built into the device by latching on to a local 3G provider. But there's a catch as our review of the Kindle Voyage explains.
At the end of the day all these arguments are about your spending power, more than your right to a free choice. Forget about ideology -- as a customer you can choose if the 'free' Internet access from one provider makes sense for you. If it's paisa vasool,( value for money) go for it. If not, look elsewhere, It's all about money, honey!