Airtel CEO commits to net neutrality in email
CEO Gopal Vittal defended Airtel Zero amidst online campaigns that have urged users to defend India's net neutrality. On the Airtel Zero platform, firms signing up for the plan pay for data charges, while users get free access. In the email, he reiterated the firm's commitment to net neutrality and explained that fears about differential access to websites are unfounded.
Airtel proposed charging customers for OTT (over the top) services such as Viber and Whatsapp that allow free messaging and telephony as long as the user has data access. However, facing a severe backlash from government and users alike, it abandoned the idea. It returned with an even more controversial scheme called Airtel Zero that allows preferential access to apps that partner with Airtel.
TRAI launched a consultation paper inviting user comments and views on net neutrality (which means treating all websites equally and letting market forces decide user access). The move came amidst intense lobbying from Telcos demanding regulation over heavy data apps such as WhatsApp and Skype. The deadline for submitting views to TRAI is April 24, 2015.
Indian online e-commerce giant Flipkart backs out of talks with Airtel on joining Airtel Zero. The move had divided the market players with firms like Zomato strongly speaking against Airtel Zero. Users, however, criticised Flipkart and began to down rate its app with single star. Faced with little choice, Flipkart backed out and issued statements in favour of net neutrality.
TRAI senior officials and the Telecom minister speak against Airtel Zero and internet.org saying that they infringe on net neutrality. The Airtel Zero launch had divided the web space users with internet activists launching netneutrality.in and urging users to reject the idea by submitting feedback to TRAI. Internet activists fear that customers might be forced to switch to websites in lure of free access.
Bharti Airtel launches Airtel Zero, a plan that allows customers to access apps for free. However, only companies that choose to sign up and pay Airtel for data charges will be available to users. Earlier, Reliance communications had joined hands with Facebook to offer internet.org. Both platforms enable startups and big firms to reach customers at one-third of the cost.