Has Airtel Zero been misconstrued as Net neutrality violation ?!

Over the past few weeks in India, lot of drama was played on Airtel zero vs Net neutrality controversy which includes flipkart walk out of Airtel zero and more than 1 million mails to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) supporting Net neutrality. I am not here to blame Net neutrality adherents. Even I am a Net neutrality adherent, but that doesn’t mean I should follow/support it blindly. Before making any statement, let us be clear with what Net neutrality and Airtel zero platform means.

Net neutrality is neither a new issue nor it is India specific issue. It has been there over a decade and each country has their own set of rules for it. The term “Net neutrality” has been coined by Tim Wu, Professor of Columbia University in 2003. To go by the definition of wikipedia, “It is principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” For dudes who shake their head even after reading the definition two or more times, let me put it in a simple way. If I have 1 GB of internet data pack, no Service provider/Government can/should restrict me from browsing the website I adore(say youtube.com). They shouldn’t restrict me saying,”Hey Mathan, you should use that 1GB data for Facebook and Whatsapp alone. You don’t have access for other websites”.

Those people who still shake their heads, let me explain in a layman way. Say I buy milk from a shop. The shopkeeper has no rights to say that I should make tea with that milk. It’s my right to make coffee/tea/boost depending on my interests. Similarly, if I buy a data pack from a service provider they can’t restrict me saying i should access specific sites(say google and fb) only. It is my right to browse anything with that data pack. And this freedom is termed as “Net neutrality”.

So what is Airtel Zero ? In nutshell, it is a platform for customers to access and download some apps (which are registered with Airtel Zero platform) at zero data charges. So, is it loss for Airtel? No!!  Instead of customers paying for their data usage, app developers (like whatsapp, google ) will redeem it. What’s the benefit for App developers in this ? Increase in app usage by their customers which will increase their market value. Apparently the benefit for customers is, they can use those apps free of cost.

Then, why Net neutrality patrons claim that Airtel zero is violating net neutrality? Airtel is favouring few apps by providing free access of those apps to customers. It’ll create a split in the internet world, free internet apps & paid internet apps which is against the net neutrality and will give advantage for free apps over paid apps. Lets assume Flipkart is under Airtel zero scheme and snapdeal isn’t. As a airtel customer, I will be forced to shop at flipkart as it is free app and Snap deal suffers here is what the Net neutrality supporter’s claim.

But, it is too early to neglect Airtel Zero for Net neutrality especially in India. In developed countries like US, around 85% of people are connected to internet and in Russia it is 62%. But in our country it is only 15%. If you throw population as a reason for this, for you kind information in china, it is 45% (Check here). Having majority of people(85%) not connected to internet, it’s not a time to think too much on Net neutrality. We should take some steps to connect everyone to internet.

And it has been misconstrued that Airtel zero is violating Net neutrality. To quote from Airtel’s website,

   Every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll-free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block or provide any differential speeds to any website.

If you are using normal data pack, you can still access all websites without any block or any differential speed.

If you flap “Bro, start ups will be affected because of Airtel Zero”, Come on dude!! I don’t know why you concern more about start ups rather than people. Rather than denying internet access to majority of people, it’s a good trade of giving them limited access to internet. To explain this with milk theory,  the shopkeeper shouldn’t restrict me to make tea or coffee in the milk, I buy from him, but if he says,  i’ll provide “Free tea” for the people who can’t afford to buy milk, it is not at all an issue.

Yes!! Net neutrality is vital and it’s our right to preserve it. But, we should fight for real net neutrality issues like Tariff plans for VoIP calls. Considering current scenario, instead of behaving prematurely to avoid the virtual problems in future, it’ll be better if we focus on current problem i.e. increasing the internet users. And let’s hope Airtel Zero will be a kickstart for that.

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