Blow for Net neutrality

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:09 am IST

Published - April 15, 2015 12:05 pm IST

It is no surprise to see online retailer Flipkart pulling out of Airtel Zero, the controversial plan offered by India’s leading telecom provider Bharti Airtel to provide its subscribers free access to select websites. >Flipkart had to contain the fallout after Airtel Zero was severely criticised by the proponents of Net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic has to be treated equally. The e-retailer faced a >severe backlash on social media over its decision to join Airtel, and even had its app down-rated on app stores by die-hard Net neutrality advocates. For all the pro-Net neutrality utterances it makes now — ironically, >Airtel also does so — what is still a surprise is what made it join the platform in the first place. Flipkart did so disregarding the >wave of support for Net neutrality that has been sweeping across India following the recent publication of a consultation paper on it by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Politicians, celebrities and the common person alike have joined the cause. Did it not occur to Flipkart that its own success until now could not have been possible but for an open Internet? Was it pushed into such a deal by private equity investors who have pumped in a few billion dollars into the business in recent years? Or was it emboldened by the relative silence of Net neutrality supporters on a similar scheme, which goes by the name of

Facebook introduced a few months ago to subscribers of Reliance Communications. Airtel Zero and are very similar schemes. Airtel would know; it is Facebook’s partner in Africa. The only difference is in positioning. is presented as an attempt to make the Internet available to those who don’t have access to it. There is no denying that many in India still do not have Web access. But the actors in are all commercial enterprises, as they are in Airtel Zero. The list includes Facebook, Reliance Communications, and many of the nearly three dozen Indian content and news sites, some of which have been vocal in their support for Net neutrality. Many of their business models are based on their ability to accumulate bigger audiences and more readers. Such free plans, also called zero-rating plans wherein the subscriber gets access to select sites, are deemed to be against Net neutrality and banned in countries such as Chile. Whatever made it join Airtel Zero in the first place, Flipkart is now making the right redemption noises, leaving Airtel in the lurch. The dramatic pullback has given supporters of Net neutrality more ammunition, much more than would have been the case had Flipkart not decided to join Airtel Zero in the first place.

Also read: >Net neutrality: nuts and bolts

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