There is a weak start of debates on Net Neutrality, conversations about Airtel Zero and Flipkart or what is being done against it by some companies here. Read on to figure how you are about to get trapped and then squeezed out.
Let me start with some quick context on what it is first.
What is Net Neutrality?
“Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the 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.” [quoted Net Neutrality wiki]. Read more about this in the Indian context.
And the problem is?
Airtel wants to introduce Airtel zero by which you will get free access to the internet, and to a certain bunch of web sites that Airtel ties up with. Anything else you pay for. Kind of in the same basic philosophy of wanting to charge people if they wanted to use skype or whatsapp to talk to someone.
The best analogy that I read (changing the year a bit) recently is as follows:
People traveling on the Delhi Gurgaon highway pay toll. It could be, hypothetically, Outer Ring Road in Bangalore. That is the B2B model. The toll guys now take this B2B and tie up with some companies in Bangalore where people work. So these companies pay the toll for their employees. Now employees of other companies are irked. Some even want to quit and go to the companies who subsidize the cost. And chaos breaks loose. The companies which haven’t tied up will now run to the toll guys to tie up. Meanwhile the toll company was charging the previously tied up companies a slightly higher per transit toll anyways. The new companies, have to pay higher still. Get the picture?
The current situation
Flipkart continues its run on being in the twilight zone – either being on the cusp of law or morality. They are tying up through Airtel zero to do exactly this. Airtel Zero becomes the toll collector. Sound similar?
Allow me to help you connect the dots.
Airtel Zero is a conglomeration of apps which will be free to access, and anything else that you want to surf to you would have to pay for. They are spinning it by saying it is free internet for the poor. When it walks like it, smells like it and talks like it…I say it is bullshit!
Very recently you would have read about Flipkart and Myntra (a subsidiary) are shutting down their mobile websites in favour of their mobile apps. Implying they want to have a single channel of entry, and don’t want people to go to their website (through mobile devices at least). Flipkart would want to do this, to ensure the collaboration(?) with Airtel Zero works right. If they did continue to have a web site supported for mobiles, people would use tunnels, VPN thingies or anonymizing web sites to get through.
So, if they can create a bit of a choke on the fragmented breadth of customers dying to buy on Flipkart, they can play with prices. If Flipkart were to have to pay Airtel for keeping access free on Airtel zero, someone finally will have to pay. That someone, is YOU! You will be paying higher prices now.
Meanwhile, operators like Airtel are arm twisting TRAI really hard to get Airtel Zero to go live. The aim is to make India’s internet dream Airtel’s fiefdom.
What else is happening in the ecosystem?
What else is happening is that larger bodies which could move opinion – folk like Nasscom and TIE etc are dozing on the wheel. Nasscom isn’t really providing a clear opinion or taking a firm stand on Net Neutrality. Doing studies with consulting companies and publishing papers is just hogwash. For an industry body so sit on the fence in this case is really being a wuss. Feel like figuring (if and) where the money trail is going to from Airtel (and similar companies).
What can you do about it?
1. TRAI has released a consultation paper with 20 questions spread across 118 complicated pages and wants you to send them an e-mail by 24th of April, 2015.
2. If you use Airtel, Flipkart or Myntra apps, start down ranking them.
3. If you are a twitter user, start writing to these companies and stating your protest.