The Net Neutrality debate is unlikely to die down anytime soon in India and continues to be a topic of interest both on social media and the mainstream news. While Flikpart, the company that faced a strong backlash for joining the Airtel Zero programme has withdrawn from it and come out in support of Net Neutrality, the debate is unlikely to die down since TRAI, India’s telecom regulator, is still looking at a regulatory framework for OTT players like Skype, WhatsApp. You can read TRAI’s paper here.
We take a look at the various statements that have been made around the Net Neutrality debate in India so far.
He wrote on Twitter, “When foreign companies do it in India – Innovation. Indians do it – Violation. #NetNeutralityDiscrimination? I’m for #NetNeutrality. I spend time/money helping startups in india. Will never support things which suffocate innovation. Zero-rated apps for limited time doesn’t go against #NetNeutrality. Costs/competition are very high. Can’t be sustained for long Zero-rating only reduces data costs for users. Fears of a telecom big brother emerging are unfounded. Choice wins. Always.”
Airtel’s statement on its zero-rating programme: Airtel had put out a statement defending their Airtel Zero programme.
The company had said that, “Airtel Zero provides universal access and is free for all our customers. Customers have the choice to decide whether they want to come there or not.” The statement added, “We have had lots of ‘small’ start-ups calling us and congratulating us for building this platform, which offers them a great opportunity to market their products at very low costs. Over 150 companies are already in touch with us and want to sign up.”
Mark Zuckerberg defending Internet.org: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO came out to defend his Internet.org programme. He said that Net Neutrality was equally important and that ISPs should not be allowed to discriminate and limit access.
However he added that, “For people who are not on the internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations.”
Flipkart when it withdrew from Airtel Zero: After initially defending themselves, Flipkart gave in to the social media furor and withdrew from the controversial Airtel Zero rating system.
“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. Based on this, we have decided on the following:
1) We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero.
2) 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.
3) 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.
The government of India: Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad issued a statement that the telecom sector regulator TRAI is holding wide consultations on the issue and its report is also awaited.
“TRAI is undertaking a consultation on the issue of Net neutrality. TRAI being an advisory body, their advice is certainly entitled to our respect, which I am awaiting,”
Prasad further said: “Way back in January itself, I have also constituted a committee headed by senior government officials of the Telecom Ministry to give me a report on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues. I have asked them to give me a report by the second week of May after the widest consultation possible including online to help government come to an informed decision on this issue. Since I am awaiting these reports, it will not be proper for me to make any comment.”
TRAI chief: Telecom regulator Rahul Khullar said there was a need for a democratic debate on net neutrality, especially against the backdrop of a big corporate war between a media house and a telecom operator.
“There are passionate voices on both sides of the debate. And if that was not enough, there’s a corporate war going on between a media house and a telecom operator which is confounding already difficult matters,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Khullar told The Indian Express.
According to Khullar, there are people who are passionately concerned about net neutrality. “They have a moral anchor… Equally, there are others on the opposite side. But there are many others in between that one should not ignore despite the passionate nature of the debate between the two extremes. We need a democratic debate on the issue, not shrill voices,” he said.
“It looks like Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in its consultation paper, has copy-pasted from submissions of telcos. India has a robust and at times, overbearing IT Act,” IAMAI President Subho Ray said.
Ray said in a statement that, “the paper makes an assumption that Internet doesn’t come under any regulations, which is incorrect. All Internet companies are regulated by IT Act.”
ClearTrip’s statement after it withdrew from Facebook’s Internet.org: ClearTrip, which was one of the partners in Facebook’s Internet.org, withdrew from the initiative after the whole debate on Net Neutrality exploded.
“The recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA.
So while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely.”
“We believe that the Internet is a great leveller and that freedom of the Internet is critical for innovation. Cleartrip is and always will be a fully committed supporter of #NetNeutrality.”
NDTV pulling out of Internet.org: NDTV, another partner of Internet.org, also announced its decision to pull out of the venture. “NDTV is committed to net neutrality and is therefore exiting, and will not be a part of, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative,” tweeted co-founder and co-chairman Pranoy Roy.
Times of India: Times of India decided to withdraw from the initiative as well. The company in a statement said that “in the case of the group’s properties such as TimesJobs and Maharashtra Times, where its competitors are not on zero-rate platforms, these properties will pull out of internet.org.”
The statement added, “As for the Times of India itself, the group commits to withdraw frominternet.org if its direct competitors – India Today, NDTV, IBNLive, NewsHunt, and BBC – also pull out. The group also encourages its fellow language and English news publishers – Dainik Jagran, Aaj Tak, Amar Ujala, Maalai Malar, Reuters, and Cricinfo – to join the campaign for net neutrality and withdraw from zero rate schemes.”
Bharti Airtel: Airtel CEO Gopal Mittal wrote an email saying that the company was not against Net Neutrality and that misinformation was being spread about its Airtel Zero platform.
The email reads, “Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality.”
“Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and do not know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet they will join the digital revolution.”
“Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.”
TRAI chief: Telecom watchdog TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar said “shrill voices” will not win the debate and the concept is not “practiced strictly” even in countries like the US and the UK.
“There has to be democratic debate. It’s a debate that is waiting to happen. Shrill voices do not win debate. Cool headed reasoned arguments on both sides are need of the hour,” Khullar told PTI in an interview.
And finally comedy group AIB’s statement on the whole Net Neutrality debate has been the strongest one yet. Watch their video below