IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 30th December, 2015
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
General studies 3:
Science and Technology – developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
General studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Nothing free or basic about ‘Free Basics’ (Facebook’s initiative)
Recently a massive protest was organised by students in Hyderabad against Facebook’s initiative, free basics.
Facebook (FB) had recently allowed signing an online petition by those who support free basics.
As per FB’s online petition, it urges users to send a letter to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) supporting Free Basics.
What is free basics?
Free Basics is part of the Internet.org by Facebook initiative.
Free Basics is a platform (app) which makes the internet accessible to more people by providing them access to a range of free basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information.
Babajobs, India’s largest blue collar jobs site, has seen tens of thousands of people come to their site from Free Basics and a healthy amount of them resulting in job applications.
Maya is a mobile messaging based health and counselling service for women and has seen an 18x increase in daily queries year-over-year since joining Free Basics.
In an app of free basics, services of babajobs, maya can be accessed without any data cost.
What are the benefits of free basics?
Try to get more people online mostly the unconnected masses. In India roughly around 30% of population have access to internet, with the free basics initiative more people can access online.
More than 90% of population have access to mobile phones with majority having smart phones, through an app like free basics which is free of cost, many services like education, health care, jobs etc can be accessed by individuals easily.
Improves digital literacy, which is one of the objective of digital India initiative by the present government.
Directly or indirectly, free basics try to empower the citizensby improving their access to quality socio economic services.
What is the state of free basics in India now?
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has stopped the service for now, pending its public consultation on the subject.
However Facebook is involved in influencing campaigns like online petition, public forums etc to essentially influence the outcome of such consultation by TRAI.
Why people are against free basics?
Data as commodity:
When users go online internet data is consumed.
Personal data is the currency of the Internet economy.
Data as commodity is the oil of the 21st century.
Facebook and Google’s revenue model is based on monetising our personal data and selling it to advertisers (like what we search more, which age group etc).
Facebook generates an estimated revenue of nearly $1 billion from its Indian subscribers, on which it pays no tax (FB is a US based company for which it pays no tax in India).
Free basics is not free and violates net neutrality:
Free Basics is not free, basic Internet as its name appears to imply.
It has a version of Facebook, and only a few other websites and services that are willing to partner Facebook’s proprietary platform.
With free basics the concept of net neutrality is violated.
The internet service providers (ISP’s) by tying up with FB act as gatekeepers, regulating what content we have to view and what we should not.
Basic flaw with the model:
Facebook’s ads and advertorials talk about education, health and other services being provided by Free Basics, without telling us howwe are goingto access doctors and medicines through the Internet; or education.
It forgets that while English is spoken by only about 12 per cent of the world’s population, 53 per cent of the Internet’s content is English.
If Indians need to access education or health services, they need to access it in their languages, and not in English.
And no education can succeed without teachers.
The Internet is not a substitute for schools and colleges but only a complement, that too if material exists in the languages that the students understand.
Similarly, health demands clinics, hospitals and doctors, not a few websites on a private Facebook platform.
Monopolization of internet:
Free basics has some limited apps which can be accessed without any cost (zero rating).
When more people log onto free basics as it has no data charge, indirectly FB starts monopolising internet.
Internet becomes FB and FB becomes internet.
Who knows after monopolisation FB can charge money or data from people for accessing its services.
Need of the hour:
Regulate price of internet data:
While the Free Basics platform has connected only 15 million people in different parts of the world, in India, we have had 60 million people join the Internet using mobiles in the last 12 months alone.
And this is in spite of the high cost of mobile data charges.
There are 300 million mobile broadband users in the country, an increase fuelled by the falling price of smartphones.
In spite of this increase in connectivity, we have another 600 million mobile subscribers who need to be connected to the Internet.
Instead of providing Facebook and its few partner websites and calling it “basic” Internet, we need to provide full Internet at prices that people can afford.
This is where the regulatory system of the country has to step in.
The main barrier to Internet connectivity is the high cost of data services in the country.
If we use purchasing power parity as a basis, India has expensive data services compared to most countries.
That is the main barrier to Internet penetration.
Till now, TRAI has not regulated data tariffs.
It is time it addresses the high price of data in the country and not let such prices lead to a completely truncated Internet for the poor.
The danger of privileging a private platform such as Free Basics over a public Internet is that it introduces a new kind of digital divide among the people.
A large fraction of those who will join such platforms may come to believe that Facebook is indeed the Internet, which is not.
The British Empire was based on the control of the seas. Today, whoever controls the data oceans controls the global economy.
The same should not happen by promoting free basics initiative of Facebook.
Connecting the dots:
Critically examine the role of free basics initiative in bridging the digital divide gap that exists in India.
What is net neutrality? Do you think free basics initiative by Facebook is a violation of net neutrality? Substantiate.
Comment on the pros and cons of free basics initiative by Facebook.
General studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation; Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders; Governance Issues
General studies 3:
Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways, etc.
Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
Delhi’s traffic experiment – Will this reduce the Emission Levels?
In the coming New Year (2016) Delhi will be subject to the much-discussed driving restrictions, according to which between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. most private vehicle operators will only be able to take their vehicles out on alternate days, from Monday through Saturday, depending on whether their license plate numbers are odd or even.
The restrictions were devised after the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi and Central governments as well as the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to produce an action plan to tackle the city’s alarming levels of air pollution.
In early December, the city, which had already been declared the world’s most polluted city by the World Health Organisation, recorded a level of atmospheric particulate matter that was 10-16 times higher than what is considered safe.
What are the experiments employed to manage traffic in other countries and their outcome?
Model employed In Mexico City’s Hoy No Circula (‘“Your car does not circulate today”) programme instituted in 1989 to bring down record levels of ozone. The restrictions, which have evolved over the years and continue today, mean that almost all private vehicles are banned for one day per week.
Outcome : There was no evidence that the concentration of pollutants declined. Citizens did not sufficiently substitute their private car trips for subway, bus or taxi rides. Instead, the number of vehicles in circulation increased, and with a greater proportion of second-hand high-emitting cars.
Do these traffic restrictions make policy of pollution control effective?
As per the recent study and empirical evidence do suggest that across the different versions of driving restrictions, not only was there no significant improvement in air quality, there was actually a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and ozone.
The concentration of nitric oxide alone decreased in one version of the restriction.
City residents buying second-hand vehicles or making more than one trip during unrestricted hours to compensate for each trip forgone during restriction hours were among the reasons for the policy’s ineffectiveness.
Change in aspiration & values
In India, car ownership is an aspiration. At the heart of the longer term solution to Delhi’s current transport pollution problem is a shift in attitudes and aspirations. This is going to require a comprehensive government strategy, targeting all populations in order to create a stronger culture of public transport across the board.
When underlying values change, behavioural changes are often not far behind. However, shifting values can take time, and transport mode-choice can be influenced parallely at the behavioural level.
Bottlenecks and way ahead:
According to a 2014 study by the Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, over 80 per cent of metro riders take long trips of more than 10 km, while only 17 per cent of trips in Delhi are 10 km or more. The research suggests that transport policies need to focus on modes that cater to short trips, including non-motorised transport.
Another finding is that the metro overestimated its ridership by at least 75 %.
When car owners take buses, do carpooling, use the metro, they will have a first-hand experience of the bottlenecks and frustrations of public transport like end point connectivity, capacity, peak hours, ease of interchange from one mode of transport to another, and so on. They will thus become stakeholders in the city’s public transport in a direct way. This applies to the companies too.
All these will put sufficient pressure on the city’s public transport’s planning, building, expanding Public transport at the earliest. This is also a wake-up call to other cities to finish their unfinished metros, procure their electric buses, roll out their intelligent transport systems and do whatever is necessary to prevent themselves from landing in the entirely avoidable position Delhi finds itself in.
Connecting the dots:
What are the harmful effects of vehicular pollutions in metro cities and suggest few methods to reduce vehicular pollutions?
Is Delhi prepared enough to implement its new found traffic restrictions on emission levels? What substitutions citizens will make for private vehicle trips during restriction hours?
Can change in values and aspirations in citizens’ help in traffic management and reduction in pollution? Comment.
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