Internet. Free or Fee

13th April 2015
Internet. Free or Fee

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,  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!