After Reliance Communications decided to provide free access to partner applications and websites, Bharti Airtel has announced the launch of Airtel Zero, where it will give free access to partner apps. This has fired up the simmering debate around net neutrality. SANDEEP SINGH explains the concept of net neutrality, why telecom operators are playing around it, and how it affects you.
What is net neutrality?
Net Neutrality is a concept where content and application providers get equal treatment by telecom operators. There is access to all websites, nothing is blocked, and the speed of access is not differentiated.
Is this situation about to change?
Moves by Reliance Communications and Bharti Airtel to tie up with several websites and application owners will lead to preferential access to their applications and websites, and this violates the concept of ‘net neutrality’. While the access and download from the partner app will become free, industry insiders say that even the speed of downloads from those websites is faster. The partner’s website may also become your first preference by default.
Why are telecom operators and application providers going for such tie-ups?
This brings additional revenue for the telecom operators. By entering into a partnership, the telecom operators provide preferential access to the website or application of the provider and, in turn, generate revenue from them.
For the website owner or application provider, this gives them access to millions of customers of the telecom operator, thereby leading to a pick-up in their number of transactions, and ultimately lifting their valuation.
Telecom operators argue that they spend a lot on buying spectrum and building infrastructure, but new applications dent their SMS or call revenues. This is just an additional way for them to monetise the access they can provide.
How does it impact the consumer?
By entering into an exclusive tie-up, the telecom operator provides free access to that application, and the data usage fee for that is paid by the application provider. However, some critics say that this may restrain the customer’s first choice of access to a website. For example, if a telecom operator ties up with one website which has a search engine, then that search engine will automatically become your first preference.