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Flipkart opts out of Airtel Zero, says zero rating is not net-neutral

MUMBAI: Under fire for its support to Airtel Zero platform, Indian e-commerce company Flipkart today said that it is walking away from its ongoing negotiations with the telco to be on its open marketing platform that allows customers to access select mobile applications at zero data charges.

Clarifying that it is an avowed supporter of net neutrality, the e-commerce company said that the concept of zero rating does not meet its standards of net neutrality. Zero rating is a practice wherein a telco does not charge end customers for a defined volume of data for specific applications or internet services.

“We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero,” Flipkart said in a statement.

“After reviewing implications of zero rating deeply, we reached the conclusion that it doesn’t meet our standards of net neutrality and violates the principles that we stand for,” it added.

The company said that it would work out an action plan to further the cause of net neutrality in India. “We will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of net neutrality in India. We will be internally discussing over the next few days, the details of actions we will take to support the cause,” the company stated further.

“We will be working towards ensuring that the spirit of net neutrality is upheld and applied equally to all companies in India irrespective of the size or the service being offered and there is absolutely no discrimination whatsoever.”

Shortly after Flipkart’s decision to pull out of Airtel Zero talks, the telco in a statement affirmed that it supports net neutrality.

It also said that Airtel Zero is not a tariff proposition and is an open marketing platform available to all companies. It also said that Flipkart’s decision not to offer toll-free data service to their customers is consistent with this position.

“The statement made by Flipkart regarding their decision not to offer toll-free data service to their customers is consistent with our stand that Airtel Zero is not a tariff proposition. It is merely an open platform for content providers to provide toll free data services,” Airtel said in a statement.

“The platform remains open to all companies who want to offer these toll-free data services to their customers on a completely non-discriminatory basis.”

Stating that there have been some misconceptions about Airtel Zero, the telco said that the platform allows any application or content provider to offer their service on a toll-free basis to their customers who are on Airtel network.

Such customers, whether on a data pack or not, will therefore be able to access these toll-free services free of charge. It also clarified that no site is blocked, throttled, or provided any form of preferential access under any circumstances irrespective of whether it is on the toll-free platform or not.

The toll-free platform is open to all content providers on a non-discriminatory basis and operates on the same principle as 1-800 toll-free voice services, it added.

Airtel has been in the eye of the storm for coming out with a plan to charge higher rate of VoIP calls only to roll it back after a furore.

Earlier this month, the telco came out with Airtel Zero initiative that allows big marketers and small-time application developers to make parts of or entire mobile apps free for customers, thus reviving interest of dormant customers, attracting new potential users, and increasing retention.

Net neutrality has been a burning issue in recent times with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) coming out with a consultation paper on the matter.

The telcos argue that their revenues from voice calls have seen a dip due to the emergence of over the top (OTT) services that allow free calling and messaging. The votaries of net neutrality, on the other hand, contend that the data revenues of telcos have increased manifold due to the usage of OTT apps.

The TRAI had recently come out with a consultation paper to analyse the implications of the growth of OTT services and consider if changes are required in the current regulatory framework.

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the government and not the regulator will have the word on the matter. Prasad has also come out in support of net neutrality, saying that the internet is the creation of human mind and it should have linkages to the common person in a non-discriminatory manner.

The government has also formed a six-member panel to submit its recommendations on the matter by early next month.

Also read:

Telecom department and not TRAI to decide on net neutrality, says Prasad