As per MediaNama report, Flipkart has joined Airtel Zero platform, and this is some bad news for advocates of Net Neutrality principle in India.
Basically, Flipkart and Airtel (and some other unnamed ecommerce portals and online services) have taken steps which can ruin the basic principles based on which Internet was formed, and an Open World of Ideas and Tools which were dreamt by the founders of the World Wide Web.
What Is Airtel Zero?
Airtel Zero is a new platform offered by Airtel, wherein the end users will pay nothing to access some specific websites, gaming portals and ecommerce portals. There would be no data charges for those customers who opt for Zero Airtel, and chose to access only a few specific sites.
Pretty much based on the DTH model for viewing satellite TV channels, the cost of data charges used by the consumer is borne by the chosen websites and ecommerce portals.
While launching this service, Srini Gopalan, Director, Consumer Business, at Bharti Airtel said, “This is exciting for customers because a lot of their favourite apps can now be accessed without data charges, and a lot of new apps that small start-ups want to offer now become free,”
How Will It Work?
Put simply, Airtel Zero offers rich, cash stuffed Internet companies to shell out money to acquire customers. Instead of doing digital marketing in the open market, they will now directly pay to Airtel to acquire customers. A shortcut to acquire customers, at the expense of their freedom!
Assume you are an Airtel user, and you have chosen Airtel Zero platform. Now, there will be several ‘packs’ based on which you need to select your favorite websites and portals.
Assume there is a pack wherein you will be able to access Youtube, Instagram, StumbleUpon and Flipkart. Thus, when you choose this pack as the end user, you will be able to download these applications and there would be no data charge while accessing it, as it would be paid by Youtube, Instagram, StumbleUpon and Flipkart directly to Airtel.
The Problem With Airtel Zero
Freedom of choice.
You as a customer will have access to only those portals and websites which have made arrangement with Airtel. As per reports, Airtel will collaborate with 80-100 Internet companies, including top 2-3 ecommerce portals. Besides these, you won’t be able to access any website or app without paying extra and more data charges.
In case Reddit or Dailymotion decides to opt out of Airtel Zero, there is no way you can access these portals besides moving out of Airtel platform.
It’s a gross violation of Net Neutrality principle, according to which Internet service providers (Airtel here) should not discriminate against specific websites and portals and make it more favorable infront of end users. And this is what happening with Airtel Zero platform now.
Tim Berners Lee, who is regarded as the the inventor of the World Wide Web had said, “Of course, (net neutrality) is not just about blocking and throttling. It is also about stopping ‘positive discrimination’, such as when one internet operator favors one particular service over another. If we don’t explicitly outlaw this, we hand immense power to telcos and online service operators. In effect, they can become gatekeepers — able to handpick winners and the losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services and platforms over those of others. This would crowd out competition and snuff out innovative new services before they even see the light of day.”
Thus, only those websites and online services which have money to pay, will be introduced favorably infront of the end user and those who are new and without any venture will be left out.
Internet was created to remove the gatekeepers of information, and ideas. Companies like Airtel cannot handpick few portals and websites and ignore others. What if I don’t want to buy from Flipkart and don’t want to listen to Youtube?
If I am an Airtel customer, I am afraid I won’t have much choice. Flipkart and all ecommerce portals should object to such a platform which discriminates one against other.
TRAI has asked general public to share their views on the Net Neutrality principle, and we would again, strongly urge you all to write to them to save Internet and Ideas in India. More details here.
Do you think that Airtel Zero will be beneficial to the overall startup ecosystem and technological advancement which India is making right now? Do you think its ethical to discriminate one website against other by a telecom provider like Airtel? Please share your views by commenting right here.