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Net Neutrality in India deals yet another blow as Airtel announces Project zero

Airtel
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In what would come as a major blow to India’s already fired up Net Neutrality battle, Airtel, one of India’s leading private telecom operators, has today announced Project Zero, its plan to offer a few, “selected” services, free of cost

As described by Airtel, Project Zero is an open “non-discriminatory” platform that will grant consumers free access to applications and services run by developers who pay the operator for the data used by the consumer. In short,  customers will get to use their favorite apps or try his or her apps without paying data charges. While this may sound sweet at first, it continues to hamper growth of other, smaller businesses who may find it difficult to bear costs levied by Airtel’s Project Zero.

However, richer, more resourceful players continue to exploit the same and hence gain preference over other competitors, in an obviously unjust manner. These plans are largely influenced, not by talent, but by money.

Net neutrality implies that all websites and services should be treated equal and there should be no discrimination in terms of speed and cost of access. This means that a telco can’t block a certain website (because of commercial or other interests) or promote one service over the other. It also means that an internet provider or telco cannot throttle speeds for one service or charge extra.

Airtel isn’t being shy in promoting its new initiative even though it violates. The most probable and visible reason for such law defiance is the monetary gains which the company aims to make out of its in the long run.

However, Airtel dusted off all the allegations of going against net neutrality rules as mentioned in TRAI documents and said that  the platform is similar to providing toll-free numbers for customer care and says Zero is ‘an open and non-discriminatory marketing platform for all developers in India.

Though Flipkart has chosen to stay off the radar, it has reportedly teamed up with Airtel for the Zero platform and is paying the telecom operator Rs 1000/gb data transfer as part of the deal (discovered by MediaNama). Flipkart has also started to make technical changes to its shopping platform that complies with the requirements of Project Zero.

What we don’t see is that it would simply conceive a cut throat battle among well established companies as well as start ups to gain an advantage over another and lure as many visitors as much they can. It may make an imbalance to the internet ecosystem and might prove drastic in the long run.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google etc already have tie-ups with telecom providers to push their services for free to consumers. But these are more of experimental services. If allowed by TRAI, this may well prove to be a final blow to net neutrality in India.


 

Senior Writer


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