Net neutrality: Facebook, Airtel defend ‘free’ platforms that don’t differentiate

By: | Updated: April 18, 2015 4:23 PM

Facebook and Airtel today said their 'free internet' platforms are open for all service providers and do not discriminate among users...

net neutrality, net neutrality India, net neutrality debate, airtel, airtel zero, internet.org India, facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg net neutrality, makemytrip, trai, Mark Zuckerberg internet.orgFacebook and Airtel today said their ?free internet? platforms are open for all service providers and do not discriminate among users. (Reuters)

Facing an uproar over ‘net neutrality’, Facebook and Airtel today said their ‘free internet’ platforms are open for all service providers and do not discriminate among users, even as more e-commerce majors including Amazon.in and MakeMyTrip committed themselves to the cause of ‘open internet’.

Travel portal MakeMyTrip committed itself away from any such platforms, while global e-retail giant Amazon’s Indian arm Amazon.in said it fully supports an “Open Internet for innovation to flourish and to promote the vision of digital India”.

Net neutrality calls for equal treatment to all Internet traffic with no priority given to an entity or company based on payment to service providers like telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory.

Finding himself on the receiving end of the ‘net neutrality’ debate, Facebook’s chief Mark Zuckerberg said today that Internet.org has benefitted “millions” of people on RCOM network in India and it is open for all mobile operators.

Asserting that universal connectivity and net neutrality “can and must” co-exist, Zuckerberg also said that he strongly disarees with the criticism that Internet.org offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality.

He also said that internet.org will never create ‘fast lanes’ for a select few by throttling the other services.

Bharti Airtel on its part said it will always provide same treatment to every website and application irrespective of whether they are on its ‘toll free’ platform or not.

The company’s MD and CEO (India and South Asia) Gopal Vital said that every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on its network whether they are on the toll free platform or not.

A major public uproar has been continuing for last few days in India, especially on social media, alleging that platforms like internet.org of Facebook, which has Reliance Communications as partner in India, and Airtel Zero of telecom giant Bharti Airtel violate the principle of net neutrality.

Amid a raging debate, both the platforms have already seen some of their partners walking away, including Flipkart from Airtel Zero and entities like Cleartrip.com, Times Group and NDTV from internet.org.

Joining the debate, CPI(M) also passed a resolution in Visakhapatnam in favour of ‘net neutrality’. Congress party has already spoken in support of ‘net neutrality’ campaign, while its youth wings yesterday took out a protest march.Platforms like internet.org and Airtel Zero are being billed as going against the concept of maintaining equal Internet access for all, although they claim to allow users to access a variety of mobile and Internet applications for free.

The critics allege that these services restrict the ‘free’ access to a select group of websites and apps and therefore sabotage the entire concept of keeping the Internet free.

While a government-appointed panel is looking into the issue of net neutrality, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently had said that the government is committed to maintain ‘non-discriminatory’ access for all to the internet.

Telecom regulator TRAI last month floated a discussion paper on the issue, while the proponents of ‘net neutrality’ have already bombarded it with more than 8 lakh petitions.

Zuckerberg today wrote in a Facebook post, “Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about internet.org and net neutrality” and he wanted to present his position on these issues for everyone to see”.

Facebook’s internet.org has drawn a lot of flak in the past few days, while same has been the case for Airtel Zero.

Airtel Zero is an open-marketing platform that allows customers to access certain mobile apps for free with charges being borne by the app makers.

“Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media,” Vittal said in a letter to Bharti Airtel employees.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality,” he added.

Vittal further said there has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that it will offer differential speed or access for different sites.

“This is untrue. After all we earn revenue from data. If there are more customers who are on the internet the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited,” he said.

Online travel services provider MakeMyTrip also jumped on the ‘net neutrality’ bandwagon, saying a free internet will foster innovation and boost pace of economic growth in the country.

MakeMyTrip said it has no such alliance with any service provider and proposed a democratic network-neutral platform, where firms “can come together to build solutions for first-time internet users”.

“We are committed to a free internet and fully support Net Neutrality. Innovation is core to our DNA and a free internet will foster innovation and boost the pace of economic growth of the country,” MakeMyTrip Co-Founder and CEO-India Rajesh Magow said in a statement.

He also asked government departments to consider how internet can be integrated in their respective areas to provide value to first-time internet users.

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