Millennium Post

Why are some apps more equal than others? Airtel has no reply

Telecom giant Bharti Airtel on Thursday got down to some firefighting, saying its ‘Airtel Zero’ platform is focussed on offering customers “free” access to mobile apps and the debate that the product violates principles of net neutrality is “unrelated”.

Launched earlier this week, Airtel Zero is an open marketing platform that allows customers to access a variety of mobile applications for free, with the data charges being paid by start-ups and large companies.

However, many are opposed to this move, who say the service violated the principle of net neutrality as it offers access to some apps and not equally to all. “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,” Bharti Airtel Director Consumer Business Srini Gopalan said. He added that the company is seeing a “big and somewhat unrelated debate on net neutrality” with regard to the product.

“While opinions from critics of the product are very welcome, it’s pertinent that we set the record straight. Since we announced Airtel Zero on April 6, over 150 start-ups ? with a majority being small start-ups ? have contacted to enquire about the product,” he said. Gopalan said the initiative will provide start-ups an “equal opportunity” to run with the “big boys” as their marketing costs would be reduced by almost three quarters.

He said the debate over the past few days indicates that a a large number of people are still not clear on what net neutrality is all about. “This gives an opportunity to the so-called experts to make various as well as baseless arguments. While their point of view is important, we should have a more informed and nuanced debate without painting a picture that is based on rhetoric rather than reason,” he said. The principle of the net neutrality concept implies that equal treatment is given to all Internet traffic and prioritisation based on payment is seen as discrimination against others.

Over the last few months, operators like Reliance Communications and Uninor have tied up with players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Wikipedia to offer free usage to consumers. Experts said the lack of guidelines in this area could fuel formation of more such “partnerships” in the days to come, thus offering preferential access to some services in conflict with the principle of net neutrality.
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