Amid a raging debate over equal internet access for all, e-commerce website Flipkart said on Tuesday it was pulling out of discussions with telecom service provider Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero, an anti-net neutrality platform.
Airtel Zero allowed consumers to access certain apps and services on the internet for free as long as the makers of these apps and services paid them first.
Flipkart's move is just the first in what is likely to be a long battle for an open internet in India, but here's why it's important:
1) By pulling out of Airtel Zero, Flipkart has set a strong pro-net neutrality precedent. Sure, this means that customers who sign up for Airtel Zero won't be able to access Flipkart for free. But it also means that smaller start-ups who can't afford to pay Airtel to subsidise data access for consumers are now on a level playing field.
2) Flipkart's announcement comes just a few days after reports that consumers were down-voting its app on Apple and Android stores and leaving comments lambasting the e-commerce giant for violating net neutrality. This is a big win for consumers. It proves that your voice is being heard.
3) A major partner pulling out of Airtel Zero is a massive public setback to Airtel's plan to slice up the internet into different packs.
4) Airtel had claimed that around 150 start-ups had shown interest in signing up for Airtel Zero. With Flipkart pulling out, it's all but certain that the rest of them will pull out as well or risk facing consumer backlash just like Flipkart did.
5) Amid rising concerns over net neutrality, the Competition Commission of India taking a close look at the matter and might launch a probe if it finds prima facie evidence of unfair business practices. The Flipkart's step could prove to be a stepping stone.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality implies equal treatment to all internet traffic and any priority given to an application or company on payment basis is seen as violating the concept. Many free internet advocates and start-ups feel that Airtel's platform could "lead to monopolisation by a few and squeeze out the small companies".
Author tweets @PranavDixit