The Net Neutrality Debate and an Edible Analogy

The net neutrality debate is now raging in India. In spite of the obvious simplification, this edible analogy should throw light on what each side in this debate stands for (at least from my perspective). 

In a vast, wide, world, there were many countries. They were at different levels of prosperity, cultivated different crops, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, but they all derived their strength from food, and so they all needed to eat.

In one of these countries, there was almost as much diversity as there was in the whole world. It had modern cities and primitive villages coexisting peacefully. In that country, a variety of crops were grown – cereals, fruits, vegetables, exquisite spies, and what not!

Variety of eatables - an edible analogy of net neutrality debate

However, quite naturally, these were not equally available to all citizens of that country.

Well connected cities had access to resources from across the country, and around the world. Any exquisite dish that could be imagined was available to the rich in those cities. (The poor, of course, often starved). Remote villages, on the other hand, had to make do with the meagre food grown locally, which did not provide them sufficient nutrition.

After decades of neglect by successive dynasties of rulers, one King who came from a humble background and rose to power with sheer charisma and support of people wanted to help these villages, as well as the poor in its cities.

He negotiated with the producers of some specific varieties of food, who concurred with him that all people deserved to eat. If the government would build roads to these remote villages, some of the producers agreed to ply their trucks to supply them with essential food.

For some other villages which were even more inaccessible, the producers themselves agreed to invest in constructing roads, or even drop food by the use of hot air balloons and airships.

You’d expect that people would be happy.

However, there was a “catch”, like some people called it. Those who invested in constructing roads to connect these villages charged a toll in using their roads. They exempted only essential goods and their own produce from this toll.

Those who ran trucks or flew airships carrying goods to these cities also offered to carry certain essential cereals and vegetables (and their own produce) at a nominal cost (or for free), and charge other goods at a higher rate.

The “liberals” of that country considered this to be unfair to all those producers who had no role in the construction of these roads or establishment of transport mechanisms, and did not care about these villages until then.

This was unfair, they said, because it discriminated between different packets that were being transported. The principle that such discrimination should not be allowed came to be known, in that country and some others before her, as food neutrality.

Food neutrality was also important to the residents of these remote villages, they argued, because otherwise the transporters will be able to influence their food preferences, and they’ll lose their right to make a free choice. When they were starving, they had little to choose from, but their pristine right to free choice was not compromised!

The benign King, however, did not listen to the rant of these advocates of food neutrality – for his primary concern was to make food available to all. Even putting this concern aside, he did not understand why the government should not exact a lesser toll on rice than on alcohol.

He, and many others in that country, did not realize why truck owners should not have the right to decide how much they charge for each item they carry. In fact, if a vegetarian truck owner wants to transport only vegetables and refuses to carry meat packages, what was wrong in allowing it?

Thus, that country was divided among the supporters of the King and his vision of food for all on one side; and his detractors and supporters of food neutrality on the other.

If you were a citizen of that country at that time, do you see yourself on one of these sides or will you be a neutral spectator?

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