Net neutrality row: CEO Gopal Vittal bats for Airtel Zero

By: | Published: April 18, 2015 1:06 AM

We are simply taking the same concept of toll-free voice to the world of data. It is for the application developers and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for

net neutrality, Net neutrality campaign, savetheinternet, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Airtel CEO, Airtel Zero, Gopal Vittal, internet, free internet, free data, TraiIn an e-mail to all its employees, Vittal, while maintaining that the company was fully committed to net neutrality, compared the Airtel Zero platform to toll-free numbers and said his company was in no way providing preferential treatment to any party or blocking any website. (Reuters)

With the country’s largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, coming under attack in the social media for its Airtel Zero platform being against the tenets of net neutrality, the company’s CEO, Gopal Vittal, put up a spirited defence on Friday, denying such allegations and even stating that the firm was committed to implement the Prime Minister’s vision of a digital India, reports fe Bureau in New Delhi.

In an e-mail to all its employees, Vittal, while maintaining that the company was fully committed to net neutrality, compared the Airtel Zero platform to toll-free numbers and said his company was in no way providing preferential treatment to any party or blocking any website.

“Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform,” Vittal wrote.

Elaborating, he said, “There is no difference between this and toll-free voice such as 1-800. When a company, selling an insurance product, enrolls into the toll-free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged.”
Under the platform calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else “our whole business would be jeopardised”. Toll-free voice helps the business owner engage with their customer. At the same time it provides the customer the benefit of reaching the business for free.

Toll-free voice is not a product or a tariff plan—it is merely a technology platform. “We are simply taking the same concept of toll-free voice to the world of data. As a result, it is for the application developers and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for.”

According to Vittal, if the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for data as they do now.

“Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which web site they want to visit—whether it is toll free or not. If they visit a toll free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site normal data charges apply,” Vittal wrote. “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,” he added.

Charging that a deliberate attempt has been made by some sections to wrongly project the platform, Vittal said, “There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all we earn revenues 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.”

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