Facing mounting protests on the internet and from customers, e-commerce major Flipkart backtracked on its decision to join the controversial Airtel Zero platform. Flipkart released a statement saying they were “walking away” from the proposed deal with Airtel and that they were “committed to net neutrality in India.”
Airtel soon followed with a statement that the organisation “fully supported” net neutrality and that there were some “misconceptions” about its proposed platform. The decision is expected to be a big fillip to the net neutrality movement in India.
Flipkart was one of the major firms that was set to offer Airtel subscribers free use of its application through Airtel Zero. The toll-free platform was seen by many as a violation of net neutrality, which advocates non-discriminatory internet access. With protests snowballing on social media and among its user base, Flipkart went back on the proposed move. “We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero [and] we will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of net neutrality in India,” the company’s statement read.
The statement comes days after co-founder and CEO Sachin Bansal had compared the “situation” about domestic protests over net neutrality to “internet apartheid.” Bansal had also decried the alleged double standards of the protests in not making much of a similar arrangement between Reliance Communications and Facebook. “When foreign companies do it in India — Innovation. Indians do it — Violation. #NetNeutralityDiscrimination?” he had tweeted.
The change of heart, however, was prompted by a “deeper understanding” of the issue, Flipkart’s said. “We at Flipkart have always strongly believed in the concept of net neutrality, for we exist because of the internet. Over the past few days, there has been a great amount of debate, both internally and externally, on the topic of zero rating, and we have a deeper understanding of the implications,” said the release.
Proponents of net neutrality contend that platforms like Airtel Zero could potentially stifle innovation. Firms like Flipkart (previous to reversal of stance) and Reliance Communication claim that such platforms would increase net penetration. The telecom ministry has set up a panel on the issue and its report is due on May 9.
Congress backs net neutrality
New Delhi: Coming out in support of net neutrality, the Congress asked the BJP government to direct Trai to scrap the paper it had floated seeking public comments. The Congress said the Trai move was “dangerous” as it was an “attack on freedom of choice.”
Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken said the government should take a stand in favour of net neutrality and added the ministry should disband the committee set up to look into the issue . ENS