Timeline: Airtel Zero to Internet.org, what fuelled the ongoing Net Neutrality debate in India

If you are wondering what exactly sparked the net neutrality debate and how it emerged to become such a big topic of discussion, here's a quick timeline.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you must have at least heard or read the word 'net neutrality' over the last week. That's the hottest ongoing debate all over the Internet/social media, in India at least, whether some apps can be made available for free by asking developers to pay for data consumed by its users.

Now, this has led to a broad array of views from how several startups will be at disadvantage and change the way we use Internet. Some have also taken the middle ground, urging users to discuss the issue in such a way that neither telcos nor startups have to suffer. So, everyone has an opinion on what's happening and what can be done.

If you are wondering what exactly sparked the net neutrality debate and how it emerged to become such a big topic of discussion, here's a quick timeline:

Firstly, lets get into some background. Throughout last year, Indian telecom companies have been quite vocal about their dislike for over-the-top (OTT) services such as messaging and calling apps eating into one of their biggest revenue streams – voice calling and SMSes. Telcos had started seeking TRAI recommendation on regulation of OTT services, and were trying hard to make a strong case to TRAI about OTT services hampering their revenue. Last year, Airtel even floated a new data plan which would charge users for VoIP calls, but had to back off after public outrage.

Over the last couple of weeks, the net neutrality debate has picked up pace thanks to the deadline for the user responses on the TRAI consultation paper as well as a campaign floated by Airtel, called Airtel Zero which will let app developers pay data charges of customers, so long as they are using the developer's app. Here's a timeline of events from the end of last month.

March 27, 2015

TRAI published the 117-page document known as 'Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services'. This consultation paper talks about net neutrality in India and how it changes the way we consume data. TRAI is seeking public views on it and the deadline for comments is April 24.

April 6, 2015

Airtel launched a new marketing platform, Airtel Zero, allowing customers to access apps of participating app developers at zero data charges. It instantly faced criticism from netizens for violating net neutrality.

April 9, 2015

While Flipkart was already rumoured to be in talks with Airtel as a participating app for its Zero platform, Sachin Bansal's tweet defending the program added further fuel to the fire.  The tweet didn’t go down well with several net neutrality supporters who decided to downvote the Flipkart app on Android to ‘one star’ rating.

April 11, 2015

While tech enthusiasts and netizens were already in support of net neutrality, it was the AIB video that helped reach out further to the masses. AIB created a nine-minute long 'Save the Internet' video on net neutrality, which states that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform or application.

April 13, 2015

More than one lakh emails were sent to TRAI in support of net neutrality. The campaign (www.savetheinternet.in) asking the public to send submissions to the TRAI that seeks views by April 24 started picking pace. This site already has ready answers for all the 20 questions that TRAI has put forth. All you need to to is copy the QnA in your mail client and send a response to TRAI. You can also edit some answers.

April 14, 2015

Public outrage forces Flipkart to pull out of Airtel Zero partnership. The company tweets from its official handle stating it strongly believes in the concept of net neutrality and the company exists because of the Internet.

April 15, 2015

Flipkart is soon followed by Cleartrip withdrawing from Internet.org. It was also followed by others like NDTV, and some properties by Times Group. By this time, Facebook's Internet.org started hitting headlines for violating the principles of net neutrality. Earlier in February, Facebook teamed up with Reliance Communications to bring Internet.org in India. Just like Airtel Zero, Facebook's Internet.org too violates net neutrality.

It was this day, that reports about Trai chief's comments about corporate war between a telco and a media house further sparked the debate.

April 16, 2015

As the debate over net neutrality in India got fierce, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg spoke in defense of Internet.org and how it is important and can co-exist with net neutrality.

April 18, 2015

There were reports about Bharti Airtel’s CEO Gopal Vittal sending mails to several CEO/CXOs and influencers explaining how its zero-rating plan does not violate the principle of net neutrality.

April 19, 2015

Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) reaffirmed its support for ‘net neutrality’, but also made a strong pitch for ‘net equality’ that will enable access to Internet for a billion Indians as part of the governments digital India vision.

April 20, 2015

Over 9 lakh emails have been sent to TRAI in support of net neutrality.

By now, reams have been written about why we should all support net neutrality. Social media pages are filled with articles and petitions about keeping net neutrality intact in the country. Looks like it is bound to become one of the biggest concerns gripping internet users in India. Many believe that it is a hurdle in government's 'Digital India' dream. The number of responses being sent to TRAI is fast approaching the 10 lakh mark. This is the highest number of responses TRAI has ever received from the public on a policy making decision.

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