Is Google secretly working against net neutrality in India?

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 21, 2015 10:34 IST
People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Google logo. Photo: Reuters

Google, which supports net neutrality and "an equal internet" in the United States, allegedly tried to prevent the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a body that represents some of the largest internet companies in India including Google, from taking an anti zero-rating stand in its submission to the Department of Telecom's report on net neutrality.

The findings come through leaked emails between the IAMAI's government relations committee and Vineeta Dixit, a member of Google's Public Policy and Government Relations team published by technology and policy news website Medianama .

“We would like to register strong protest against this formulation and would request you to remove this [zero-rating] from the submission," says Dixit's email to the IAMAI committee and says that there is no consensus on zero-rating in the country yet. Zero-rating is a telecom industry term that refers to data that customers don't directly pay for but is instead subsidised by telecom operators or content providers. Critics say that zero-rating splits the internet into free and paid tiers and ultimately ends up harming smaller content providers who cannot afford to pay telecom operators to zero-rate their content for end users.

"Google has been suspiciously silent on the issue of net neutrality and has even skipped a parliamentary standing committee deposition it was invited for," says Medianama's editor and net neutrality activist Nikhil Pahwa. "Over the years, it has taken strong positions in favour of an open internet. But it has also done zero-rating deals with Airtel in the last couple of years and is no longer voicing support for net neutrality."

In India, Google is also a part of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a telecom industry lobby that supports zero-rating and licensing and regulation of services that provide internet communication like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and more.

The Department of Telecom report released last month specifically points out Facebook's, which zero-rates supported websites and services as a potential "gatekeeper" for internet access and says that such a gatekeeping role should be "actively discouraged."

According to an article in the Economic Times, Google was, in fact, about to follow in Facebook's footsteps by launching its own zero-rated platform in India but put it on hold at the last minute after strong support for net neutrality from the country's internet consumers and the backlash against Airtel Zero.

Google did not respond to multiple requests for a comment from Hindustan Times.

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