Travel site Cleartrip and TV news channel NDTV have pulled out of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative on Wednesday amid the raging debate over net neutrality in India that prompted e-shopping company Flipkart to sever ties with Airtel Zero.
The Times Group tweeted that they commit to quit the initiative too.
Facebook’s partnership with Reliance Communications to provide free Internet access to 33 websites as part of its Internet.org initiative had raised eyebrows with activists saying that it violates net neutrality.
NDTV is committed to net neutrality and is therefore exiting, and will not be a part of, Facebook's http://t.co/r3IZLs9qEJ initiative.— Prannoy Roy (@PrannoyRoyNDTV) April 15, 2015
Listed on Internet.org as the company to “check train and flight schedules & buy tickets”, Cleartrip said its initial move was intended to help deliver its products to underserved parts of the country.
“Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to a social cause. But the recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast,” says a Cleartrip statement.
“So while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely,” it adds.
Internet.org states that it aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm.
Recently, mobile operator Airtel's move to introduce an open marketing platform - Airtel Zero- set the debate on net neutrality rolling. The Telecomm Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) also released a consultation paper on whether telecom firms can be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of Internet data like email, Internet browsing and use of apps like Whatsapp, Viber and Skype.
Flipkart, which was initially interested in Airtel Zero, walked out stating that it realised that net neutrality “can get compromised in the future”.
Snapdeal’s CEO also tweeted his support: “Of course, we are for #NetNeutrality @snapdeal.”
Facebook chief, Zuckerberg defended his initiative in a discussion in New York.
“For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programmes like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations.”
Net neutrality implies equal treatment be accorded to all internet traffic and no priority be given to an entity or company based on payment to service providers like the telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory.
According to Net Neutrality India, over 5 lakh emails have been sent to TRAI in support of the issue.
TRAI has put up the issue for public feedback with the last date for submitting comments being April 24 and counter comments May 8. Besides, the government has also formed a panel to study the issue.