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Pledging Support to Net Neutrality, Flipkart ‘Walks Away’ From Airtel Deal

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NEW DELHI: Amid a massive public campaign to support net neutrality in India, online retail giant Flipkart has announced that it will not be a part of the new Airtel platform that was attacked for allowing users to access partner apps without any charges for data. Called Airtel Zero, the platform creates discrimination within content, an absolute no-no for the Internet, say supporters of net neutrality which mandates that all data must be treated equally.

Flipkart said in a statement on Tuesday that it will be walking away from “ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero” and “committing ourselves to the larger cause of Net Neutrality in India.”
Ever since the first reports about Flipkart joining Airtel Zero, users have reacted strongly, and the backlash has seen the app being given one-star ratings on app stores.

At a press conference Flipkart’s Mukesh Bansal said the company has always put the consumer first. “We have always believed in net neutrality. After deliberation we realised that this deal with Airtel could have compromised net neutrality in the future. We will not take part in any deal that can jeopardise internet freedom,” he said.

Over 3 lakh people have emailed telecom regulator TRAI in the last 48 hours via the SavetheInternet.in website, asking that the government ensure that net neutrality is protected in India. That means users should be able to access all websites at the same speed and cost. No website should be given preferential treatment over another.The government has created a committee of six members to review the issue. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the team’s report will be presented in the middle of May “on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues.”

Airtel’s Zero platform asks partners or content providers to pay for the data consumed by users of the app. That means that smaller companies, for example, who cannot afford those costs, would be left out of the mix.

Airtel has denied this, with Bharti Airtel director for consumer business Srini Gopalan saying, “First and most important point, Airtel Zero is ‘free’ for all our consumers and open to all marketers. Yes, open to all big or small… Since we announced Airtel Zero on April 6, over 150 startups, with a majority being small startups – have contacted to enquire about the product.”

Late last month, telecom regulator Trai, released a paper inviting comments from users and companies on how Internet apps and services should be regulated. Some of the language in the paper had experts worried the regulator might take a pro-telco stance in its final recommendations. The regulator said written comments on the consultation paper were to be submitted by April 24 and counter comments by May 8.

“When telcos have the power to decide which app or website you can shop cheaper on or what services you can access better, the end user will have no freedom of choice,” warned the Congress’ Ajay Maken, saying his party strongly supports net neutrality.

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