Flipkart pulls out of Airtel Zero after social media backlash, says strongly believes in net neutrality

  • Pranav Dixit, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2015 17:38 IST

The battle for net neutrality got a boost on Tuesday with e-commerce giant Flipkart pulling out of the Airtel Zero platform, with which it was in talks to partner with.

Airtel Zero allows customers to access certain apps and websites without paying data charges as long as the makers of those apps and services pay Airtel for this free access. Experts argue that this goes against the concept of net neutrality, which deems that all data on the internet is equal and should not be discriminated against.

Flipkart announced its decision after a widespread backlash against the firm on social media and users voting down its app on the Android and Apple app stores after its CEO, Sachin Bansal, tweeted in support of Airtel Zero.

The company has issued the following statement:

We at Flipkart have always strongly believed in the concept of net neutrality, for we exist because of the Internet. Over the past few days, there has been a great amount of debate, both internally and externally, on the topic of zero rating, and we have a deeper understanding of the implications. Based on this, we have decided on the following:

# We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero.

# We will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of Net Neutrality in India. We will be internally discussing over the next few days, the details of actions we will take to support the cause.

# We will be working towards ensuring that the spirit of net neutrality is upheld and applied equally to all companies in India irrespective of the size or the service being offered and there is absolutely no discrimination whatsoever.

Update: Airtel has responded with the following statement:

Airtel fully supports the concept of Net Neutrality. There have been some misconceptions about our toll free data platform – Airtel Zero. It is a not a tariff proposition but is an open marketing platform that
1. Allows any application or content provider to offer their service on a toll free basis to their customers who are on our network.

2. Such customers whether on a data pack or not will therefore be able to access these toll free services free of charge.

3. No site whether on the toll free platform or not under any circumstances is blocked, throttled or provided any form of preferential access.

4. The toll free platform is open to all content providers on a completely non discriminatory basis and operates on the same principle as 1-800 toll free voice services.

The statement made by Flipkart regarding their decision not to offer toll free data service to their customers is consistent with our stand that Airtel Zero is not a tariff proposition. It is merely an open platform for content providers to provide toll free data services. The platform remains open to all companies who want to offer these toll free data services to their customers on a completely non discriminatory basis.

Net neutrality is currently a hot-button issue in India. Over 3 lakh people have emailed the Telecom Regulatory Authory of India (TRAI) using SaveTheInternet.in, the country's telecom regulatory authority, which recently released a 118-page consultation paper on regulating over-the-top services and inviting people's responses.

The government has created a committee of six members to review the issue. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the team's report will be presented in the middle of May "on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues." It will be out on May 9.

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