Business vs public interest. Net neutrality, pizza hut and coffee board

America is still a country of dream for the world. Everyone likes to go there as it is supposed to have an open market and no state control. That, it is not enough for a country was known when the bubble busted in 2008. Perhaps some state control would help as when business interests combine, public interest will take a back seat.

People from India, whether vegetarians or not, initially find it hard to eat out in the U.S.A. Many would have heard an Indian standing in a Burger King counter saying: “One cheese-burger without burger and one coca cola without ice”. All these outlets fill your glass with ice and I wondered if there would be any coca cola in the glass. Though I could handle a burger, I preferred coca cola without ice cubes. It used to be sufficiently cold anyway.

One thing most Indians like the first time they taste is pizza. It can be ‘pure’ vegetarian too. They may use the same knife and spoons, but we are in the U.S.A. We used to have parties at the Chemistry Department at Kansas State, when the students would proudly proclaim: We will have the best food known to mankind: Burgers and hot dogs. Of course, they would not have tasted delicious dosa and ‘parotta-chalna’ on the streets of Madurai. For some reason, I never liked hot dogs but could handle burgers.

I have always been old-fashioned and my taste buds are coarse rather than fine. When I could finally figure out the difference in taste between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, I liked the latter better. Among the pizza, I liked the pan pizzas at Pizza Hut. Only later I found out that the original Italian pizzas are mostly thin crust. I liked it the American way. But, there was one problem.

Manhattan, KS, the little apple has  a pizza hut right next to the University and I learned that it was among the first three Pizza Huts to be opened in the U.S.A. Now, there are three within 3 km of my Institute in Bangalore. When I went to the Pizza Hut the first time, I asked for Coca cola. The waiter told me that they would only serve Pepsi. I really had no-choice in the free market USA. Pepsi and Pizza Hut have a tie-up and so you cannot have Coco Cola with Pizza if you go to Pizza Hut. We started ordering Pizza from the hut and buying coca cola from the local store.

Indian Institute of Science had one of the very few outlets established by the Indian Coffee Board. Coffee at coffee board was a must if one visited IISc, until a few years ago. I happened to be the Amenity Committee Chairman when the coffee board closed door at IISc, despite my best efforts. The employees association was opposing the raise of coffee price from Rs 5 to 6. They wanted it to be Rs. 5.50, when it was becoming difficult to find coins. I allowed the coffee board to increase the price to Rs. 6 and the association ransacked the coffee board outlet. I pleaded with the Administration that the Institute should put the association in place. It was felt that the issue was not important enough to make the association unhappy. The top would say: Why do we need coffee place inside the campus? Association continued but the coffee board closed.

Of course, my main objective in mentioning the coffee-board here is different. We also had a tea-board right next to it though it had nothing to do with the Indian Tea Board. That was run by ex-employees of the coffee board. When the tea-board was allowed to open, a condition was put: As long as the coffee-board works (7 AM – 6 PM), tea board should not sell coffee. I found it strange and announced that we would let tea-board serve coffee all the time they are open. Coffee board objected. I told them that they are welcome to sell tea. They said it was against their policy.

So, here in state-controlled India, the tea-board was prevented from selling coffee. In the free-market USA, business tie-up between Pepsi and pizza hut, prevented the latter from selling coca-cola.

I had not quite followed the ‘net-neutrality debate’ until recently. Clearly, it is the confluence of business interest which removes the choice from the user. I can’t believe that the Government of India wants this to be debated. Public resources cannot be given away to the businesses for exploitation. I signed on the petition recently in change.org to maintain net-neutrality.

Before closing, I must share another experience. When I was in Urbana-Champaign, we organized a lake-Michigan circle tour. We drove two vans around the lake and it was 1100 miles. We stayed in tents at the banks of lake Superior. There is a small island called Mackinac island near Sue St. Marie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sault_Ste._Marie,_Ontario). We had lunch at a pizza hut and it served Coca-cola. Apparently the city administration told them: Here no one likes pepsi. If you want to open your outlet, you have to sell coca-cola. Clearly, in a democracy, people’s choice could be enforced if everyone speaks their mind. Here in India, free speech is voluntarily given up by many, either out of fear or for favor.

That really brings me to a close now. I was very pleased to see the recent vocal support for net-neutrality by many professors of IIT and IISc. Finally, have we started speaking up!? http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/IIT-IISc-professors-join-the-fight-for-net-neutrality/articleshow/47024566.cms

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One thought on “Business vs public interest. Net neutrality, pizza hut and coffee board

  1. Satish V. Kailas says:

    We speak up when the people (not issues) whom we speak up against do not matter. In the case of academics, it is when they do not control our promotion, project funding, fellowships or awards.

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