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It’s not so easy to provide free internet in Russia

The Russian president has proposed to provide the Russian citizens with free access to internet resources considered as socially significant. In other words the Russian should receive free access to necessary web-sites even with zero balance.

But in practice the implementation of this proposal faces the old economic problem – who would pay the traffic caused by free access? The telecommunication operators don’t want to lose their revenues, thanks to the web-sites, fallen in category of socially significant, they make revenues based on subscription fees. Now they could lose it thanks to proposal.

Actually, initially it was intended to provide access to Russian social networks (it is not Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that they could “eat” less traffic than Russian social networks), but telecommunication provides claimed that thanks to free access the traffic would increase significantly, because it would be free.

For example, take the current situation with COVID-19. The self-isolation regime active in certain regions of Russia has caused increasing in traffic, because many people are sitting at home. It is some kind of stress test for Russian telecommunication networks.

The Russian deputy has proposed to make “traffic prioritization” for Russian web-sites and online services. De facto it is breaching of net neutrality. According to the proposal the traffic to foreign web-sites like twitter, facebook is to be transmitted by the leftover principle.

So in the first row should be Russian social networks and web-sites and then foreign web-sites and services. The rationale for this proposal is simple: these foreign companies “have no any representative offices in Russia and they breach Russian laws”, therefore “the Russian state does not owe them anything”.

The proposal doesn’t mean the blocking of such resources, but in the case of network overload the access to such web-sites or services could be slow down. According to the deputy he has sent petition to the Russian minister of communication and to the chief of Russian Federal Antitrust Service.

The petition proposes to introduce the traffic prioritization for the web-sites and services based on the list, which is to be approved. The main criterion to be included in the list should be no failure with payment of taxes and breaches of the Russian laws.

If such discussion around traffic raises question similar to net neutrality because a lot of people and internet surfers can make telecommunication network to load, what would be with network when socially significant web-sites would be available even if the subscriber has zero balance and opportunity to communicate in internet?

According to the list drafted by ministry of communication, the Russian social networks, where people can find a lot of video and music (heavy files) of high quality, the web-sites of Russian mass media, where people also can find a lot of media content, could load the telecom network much harder than consequences of self-isolation.

The web-sites with free access also includes Russian email services, Russian search engines, Russian news aggregators, Russian online maps, Russian transportation services, and many other only Russian online services which require good network capacity.

The business community has warned the Russian authorities on damages and losses caused by mandatory free access to socially significant web-sites or web-services. The telecom companies could lose more than 200 billion a year. They would not have enough investments to develop new network capacities and maintain existing capacities. That could lead to decreasing of bandwidth quality.

Certainly, as always, the Russian state is not going to compensate the losses of telecom operators. Therefore the Russian authorities have ordered the web-sites and web-services from white list to develop textual versions of their web-sites and web-services in order to make traffic more “lighter”.

But some TV channels don’t understand how it is possible to make news without video? They believe it would be some kind of newspaper but not TV channel. The telecom operators also don’t want allow media resources make money at their account.

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