Net Neutrality Panel Against Internet.org, Pro Airtel Zero

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jul 06, 2015

net

A DoT panel on net neutrality has reportedly opposed projects like Facebook’s Internet.org, which allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges, even though it suggested that similar plans such as Airtel Zero be allowed clearance from the telecom regulator.

The panel has stated that “collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable such gate-keeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged.

The panel has favoured allowing zero-rating platforms, like Airtel Zero, if operators take prior permission of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to launch them, and they don’t violate principle of net neutrality, sources told PTI. 

Net neutrality implies that equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic and no priority be given to an entity or company based on payment to content or service providers such as telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory.

The Net neutrality debate heated up in India after telecom operator Airtel launched a platform, Airtel Zero, which would allow free access of some websites on its network. However, the companies were asked to pay Airtel for joining the platform.

Read more: Net Neutrality In India And Why It Matters

Internet.org, on the other hand, is a Facebook-led initiative which aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm as well as mobile operators. In India, it had tied up with Reliance Communications.

Sources said the DoT panel has stated that this project has been criticised for violating net neutrality principle and favouring Facebook’s own services over its rivals. Facebook, however, at various forums has said that the project is pro-Internet access and hence does not violate the principle.

The Internet.org earlier provided restricted Internet access to subscribers RCom, the panel is learnt to have noted.

“The panel observed that until April 2015, Internet.org users could have free access for only a few websites and Facebook’s was seen as gatekeeper in determining what websites were in that list. This was seen as violating net neutrality.”

India is currently home to the world’s third-largest population of internet users. Activists and service providers argue such platforms and subsidized access go against the idea of net neutrality. For start-up firms especially, this could be a big disadvantage in the larger scheme of business, believe experts. It also observed that large organizations with market have started creating closed ecosystems which profit their business model in the long run. 

Read more: Net Neutrality: What Industry Leaders Are Saying

Facebook, however, says the project is pro- Internet access and hence does not violate the principle.In early May 2015, due to severe criticism, Facebook opened it to websites that meet certain criteria.

Meanwhile, a government policy that protects net neutrality is seen as ‘critical’ for the success of its Rs. 1.13 lakh crore Digital India program as any sort of prioritizing, throttling or blocking of the Web would stifle the digital ecosystem in the country. According to experts, preserving an open internet will prove whether the Narendra Modi government is able to execute its vision of Digital India.