Zero rating has been around for five years: Flipkart's Sachin Bansal 'defends' net neutrality

Following the Airtel Zero Fiasco, Flipkart, which is reportedly partnering with Airtel on the service provider's Zero charge platform, received a lot of flak from consumers on social networking sites with some downvoting the app to a one star rating on both Android and iOS, while others boycotting the e-tailer and uninstalling the app from their phones.

Airtel Zero allows customers to access certain apps and websites without paying data charges as long as the makers of those apps and services pay Airtel for this free access. However, this 'zero charge' premise goes against the basic notion of net neutrality, which deems that all data on the internet is equal and should not be discriminated against. Flipkart  was the first to announce a likely partnership with Airtel Zero, and Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal has been one of the few prominent persons to speak out in support of zero-rating plans like Airtel Zero. In fact the CEO even explained his rationale on Twitter:

Bansal further defended his net neutrality stance in an interview with Nextbigwhat where he said, "We are certainly not asking for any special packs or regulating the speed of the connection; nor are we seeking preferential treatment or pricing. What we would like to do is to pay for parts of the data that our users consume while accessing the Flipkart app. We only support zero rating and nothing beyond that."

He goes on to say that zero rating has been used by global peers like Twitter, Wikipedia, Amazon, Google and Facebook in India.

Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal

Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal

"To us, it’s surprising and a quite disappointing that it is somehow wrong when Flipkart, a local Internet company, considers it. The situation that exists in India today is akin to apartheid in the Internet world. Most people wrongly believe that Flipkart is asking for preferential treatment. In reality we are only asking for equality with our global peers and are NOT asking for any preferential treatment," he says.

In February, Reliance Communications and Facebook partnered to launch Internet.org in India, a service whose aim was to bring the Internet to the next billion people but in reality it grossly violated net neutrality by offering free access to a handpicked websites and social networks for free, while making users pay for others.

As Firstpost said earlier, Bansal's stance seems to be “well, if Facebook is doing it, why not Airtel”. This completely missed the point that both initiatives essentially allow ISP’s to direct net traffic to their benefit. His argument that ‘choice always wins’ and that such an initiative could not be sustained for an unlimited time also falls flat.

Getting on the wrong side of the Twitter mob seems to have hurt Bansal considerably but he hasn't seem to have learnt a lesson.

"Some folks on the social media are advocating uninstalling the Flipkart app. This definitely hurts. What people don’t realize is that, even if this is successful in stopping us from doing the deal, this doesn’t actually change anything. Like I said before, if people really feel this strongly zero rating should not exist then the laws need to change. We are one hundred percent committed to comply with all laws and rules," he tells NextBigWhat.

And guess who has joined the debate on net neutrality? Late Friday night Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal tweeted, "Couldn't have built Zomato if we had a competitor on something like Airtel Zero."

"I think Airtel will bully Trai to agree. Long term plea: please ensure our kids have access to education. We all learn a lot from the net," he said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released a discussion paper on net neutrality in the last week of March and is seeking public comments by April 24 and counterviews by May 8.


Updated Date: Apr 13, 2015 15:04 PM

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