#AirtelPledge, A Pledge To Tame User’s Freedom of Choice? Airtel Clearly Misunderstands Net Neutrality



Airtel leadership is clearly concerned and alarmed at the rate at which consumers are voicing their anger against their monopolistic scheme: Airtel Zero, especially after Flipkart pulled out from this evil nexus and declared support for Net Neutrality.

To add salt to their wounds, leading ecommerce portals, Internet services and publications such as Amazon, Infibeam, FreeCharge, Housing, Times Group, NDTV among others have stated that they are against any plans which violates the Freedom of Internet. Several of them have opted out from Facebook’s similar scheme of controlling Internet: Internet.org, and these developments have stirred Airtel’s leadership into taking some concrete action to stop the damage.

Yesterday, Airtel MD & CEO Gopal Vittal came out with a letter named as #AirtelPledge which was blasted to every email id they had in their database. Targeted to ‘friends’ of Airtel, which covers their customers, media, entrepreneurs and Internet users, they have tried to state their commitment to Net Neutrality while at the same time killing it with discriminatory plans.

Summing up their vision of Airtel Zero (which no major startup or content provider currently supports) in 7 points, this seems a desperate attempt by Airtel to put some weight around Airtel Zero.

But it miserably fails and more than convincing us, it clearly makes us believe that Airtel’s mentality is way, way beyond the basic net neutrality principles. And that they have not yet learnt the lessons of a free and fair world where competency is determined by the merit of the product rather than the ISP or telecom camp.

Here are three biggest errors in judgment made by Airtel while defending Airtel Zero platform:

1) Vision of Internet and Digital India

Airtel states “Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet”, which basically translates into ‘Airtel’s lab of advertisements and marketing’. Doesn’t Airtel realize that Internet as a concept is much bigger than a telecom company; and by turning their customers into a product with the help of access to few websites will take them further away from ethics and morality?

By charging a customer for visiting a website which is not inside Airtel Zero is a gross, severe violation of Net Neutrality principle. Considering that UN considers Internet as a Basic Human Right, this step and scheme is itself prone to legal action.

2) Comparing Toll Free Numbers With A Website/App

I am not sure who gave them this logic of comparing toll free number with a website, which Sunil Mittal and others from Airtel frequently cite while defending their Zero platform. A toll free number is a service or ‘support mechanism’ which enables businesses to give an easy way to connect with them. You remove a toll free number and still the business exists. But in today’s connected economy, a website is the business! You remove the website, and the business ceases to exist.

The website is the gateway to the core of today’s businesses, it’s a platform using which companies expand and make their future decisions. The website is no more a support system but a full-fledged business in itself.

If Airtel thinks that Internet and Websites work the same way toll free numbers work, then I am afraid Indian telecom industry is being led by very misinformed and outdates minds.

3) Replacing Digital Marketing With Airtel Zero

Point # 6 mentions: “Based on the interest evinced by many small companies, we believe that our platform is especially attractive for them since they will now be able to get their content and applications to their customers at a fraction of the cost of other digital marketing alternatives”

Hence, Airtel leadership has made some brave plans to replace the whole Digital Marketing industry with their Zero platform. Again, a very grave, dangerous and misplaced notion about a science and art which they clearly don’t understand.

Digital Marketing is simply not about spending X amount of rupees in ‘acquiring’ a customer; rather it’s a strategy, a field of study where a business devises methods to connect with the customers, and inspire/motivate them to choose their products or services. It’s not only about spending Adwords dollars or Facebook likes to initiate a transaction but also involves understanding the customer, their pain points and nurturing a relationship which sometimes goes beyond just sales or acquisition. It would have been so good, if Airtel leadership read some latest blogs and discussions about Digital Marketing, Content Marketing and the fair and free platform it provides for all creators and entrepreneurs.

Or rather, Airtel understands these things and deliberately introducing Airtel Zero to kill the whole industry itself, and establish their sole monopoly?

Whatever be the actual reason, this letter from Airtel is a warning for supporters of Net Neutrality in India: The fight has just started.

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