DoT secretary says Airtel Zero platform violates Net Neutrality: Report

DoT secretary Rakesh Garg tells Business Standard in an interview that Airtel Zero violates net neutrality.


We’ve been hearing about how Trai isn’t really buying Facebook’s Internet.org or Airtel Zero programs and DoT is also batting for net neutrality.  Earlier telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had assured that the government stands for net neutrality and will ensure a non-discriminatory internet is available, now DoT secretary Rakesh Garg tells Business Standard in an interview that Airtel Zero violates net neutrality.

"Net neutrality says as far as the consumer end is concerned, whatever comes should come at the same price. It should not be dependent on any plan. The way net neutrality is understood, it (the launch of such platforms) violates the principles," Garg said.

When asked about telcos concern over OTT players eating into their revenues as the former continues to pay the licence fees, he said that telcos knew what the rules were under the licensing program and nobody forced them to come.

"OTT players are working in their own different set of rules. And they have not come up in the last one-two years. They almost came at the same time as mobile phones. Telcos never objected to their environment then, today they say the environment has to change," he told the news site.

He also adds that DoT committee will 'take the final call' if OTT players would be brought under the licensing framework or not.

Airtel had created quite a stir with its new Zero marketing platform. However, massive outrage forced its partner Flipkart to walk out of Airtel Zero. Soon companies like Cleartrip and NDTV walked out of Facebook’s Internet.org, a platform almost similar to Airtel Zero.

Now, Facebook has also come up with an 'open' Internet.org platform for all developers in India. Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama writes, “No matter what Facebook says about Internet.org being a means of promoting Internet usage, it isn’t. It’s a fundamental, permanent change in the way the Internet works by splitting it into free vs paid access.

Earlier Prasad had also said that Trai can make a recommendation under Trai act but the final decision rests with the government. “It is a sensitive issue on which we need to take a proper, informed decision. The larger commitment of my government, on which I am very active is, we need to strive for a non-discriminatory Internet availability, he added.

Rahul Gandhi had also moved an adjournment motion in Lok Sabha and called the government pro-corporate. He also mentioned the need for a new law on net neutrality. In response, Prasad also took to reminding Gandhi how the UPA government had blocked Twitter handles in the past.

It had suddenly got a political twist. SaveTheInternet.in Coalition had also appealed to parliamentarians and political leaders to keep the matter apolitical.

“We urge with the utmost humility that – just like the Internet – the present effort should not to be appropriated by any individual, organisation or political party. We are an apolitical group and do not have any party allegiances, but we are grateful at the support shown to our concerns by political leaders across India’s political spectrum. We hope the cause of a free and open Internet continues receiving support from all people committed to our democracy,” the letter reads. Read the complete letter here.

Trai received overwhelming response with over 11 lakh emails in support of Net Neutrality.  The responses are now out on its website and open to counter comments until May 8. Meanwhile, the volunteer group, SavetheInternet, is requesting that in the absence of a recommendation from Trai and any decision from the government, telecom companies should be restricted from rolling out any plans and services that violate net neutrality. The group has also requested support from political parties as the issue impacts both the freedom of access to the Internet as well as survival of thousands of Internet-enabled Indian startups trying to 'Make In India.'