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Netizens’ wrath gives Flipkart cold feet

Netizens’ wrath gives Flipkart cold feet
In a sudden U-turn, e-commerce major Flipkart on Tuesday switched sides to support ‘net neutrality’, decided to “walk away” from its proposed tie-up with Airtel that has stoked a furious debate over a need to maintain equal Internet access for all. “We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero,” Flipkart said.

Net neutrality implies equal treatment to all Internet traffic and any priority given to an application or company on payment basis is seen as violative of that concept. Launched last week, Airtel Zero is an open-marketing platform that allows customers to access certain mobile applications for free with charges being borne by app makers.

Airtel Zero, as also similar services launched by Reliance Communications and Facebook, among others, have come under attack with critics terming them as attempts to restrict ‘free’ Internet access to select platforms and against the ‘net neutrality’ regime.

A government-appointed panel is looking into these concerns and is likely to submit its report next month, while the matter is being separately studied by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which has already got submissions from over one lakh netizens in support of net neutrality in India.

Free Internet advocates and start-ups see the move as a violation of net neutrality and one that could even “lead to monopolisation by a few and squeezing out of small companies”.

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal, who earlier defended ‘Airtel Zero’ and had criticised the opposition to it in the name of ‘net neutrality’, said today, “We have always unequivocally supported net neutrality and will continue to do so.

“We did look into the zero rating concept and on one hand we felt that being able to make free Internet available could be useful but after looking in deeper we realised that net neutrality can get compromised in the future which we are not supportive of it at all.” He had earlier tweeted in defence of Airtel Zero, saying “When foreign companies do it in India - Innovation. Indians do it - Violation. #NetNeutralityDiscrimination?”

This resulted in Flipkart drawing a lot of flak online with many users even deleting the app from their phones to show support for net neutrality.

“We think that equal access to Internet and equal treatment of all services on the Internet is important for healthy growth of Internet and Internet-based services in the country,” Bansal said.

“Flipkart has always taken a consumer-first stance whenever we evaluate a choice or make a decision. We had played our role in growth of Internet adoption in the country and will continue to do so over a long period of time, so we are not going to participate in any zero rating programme,” he added.

The Flipkart spokesperson said there has been a great amount of debate, both internally and externally, on the topic of zero rating over the last few days and “we have a deeper understanding of the implications”. “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 spokesperson added.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “AAP committed to neutral Internet. India must debate #NetNeutrality. I support #Saveinternet campaign.”

After a video by comedy group AIB (explaining why net neutrality is essential for India) went viral on social networks, actors like Shah Rukh Khan and music composer Vishal Dadlani and Congress leader Digvijay Singh have also extended their support through tweets.

The nine-minute video urges people to sign up against allowing telecom operators/Internet service providers to choose the type, quantity or pricing of content for consumers. Leading the voices of Bollywood, actor-director Farhan Akhtar has called for a campaign to ‘save the Internet’.
M Post Bureau

M Post Bureau

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