The ‘Net Neutrality’ debate has attracted a lot of attention in recent days. While some analysts and industry experts have dubbed the initiatives taken by certain telecom operators as discriminatory and against the concept of an ‘Open Internet’, telecom operators believe that ‘Net Neutrality’ as a concept is misunderstood.
To present both sides of the story, here is a perspective from Srini Gopalan, Direct-Consumer Business, Bharti Airtel:
It’s only been a couple of days since the launch of Airtel Zero, an innovative and open marketing platform that will allow customers to access mobile applications “free of cost”, and we are seeing a big and somewhat unrelated debate on net neutrality with regards to the product.
While opinions from critics of the product are very welcome, it is pertinent that we set the record straight and look at some key facts relating to Airtel Zero and the benefits it brings to customers and the industry alike.
First and most important point: Airtel Zero is “free” for all our consumers and open to all marketers. Yes, open to all – big or small.
In fact, since we announced Airtel Zero on April 6, over 150 start-ups – with majority being small start-ups – have contacted to enquire about the product. For the record, every one of them told us what a great platform we will be providing to them and for a change they will have an “equal opportunity” to run with the big boys. On an average, Airtel Zero will help reduce their marketing costs by almost three quarters. Not bad, I would say, though some may still feel otherwise.
There is also a high level of misinformation surrounding the product, which is not surprising since the very concept of Net Neutrality is a bit misunderstood. Let us also bust some of the myths regarding Airtel Zero.
|The product concept amounts to preferential access||Not at all. Airtel Zero provides universal access and is free for all our customers. Customers have the choice to decide whether they want to come there or not.|
|Large companies with big budgets will be favoured and smaller start-ups will lose out||NO. On the contrary we have had lots of ‘small’ start-ups calling us and congratulating us for building this platform, which offers them a great opportunity to market their products at very low costs. Over 150 companies are already in touch with us and want to sign up.|
|‘Smaller’ Start-ups will not be able to afford to pay for the data charges||Why not? Today, when a consumer downloads a new app and uses it for a day, the total amount of data consumed is roughly about 20-30 MB. Assuming a price of INR 1/MB of free data, this will translate to INR 20 for the start-up. Compared to this, the average cost of marketing digitally through large media/ internet companies is about INR 50 to 300 per download. So, this platform will actually make it cheaper for small companies to gain distribution as well as visibility.|
|Telecom companies will charge other companies for data used by customers. This is a way of making money.||Telecom companies have been working with businesses for decades to offer ‘Toll-Free’ voice services, wherein, a business pays to a customer to call in. Airtel Zero is the same concept.|
|Airtel Zero is against Net Neutrality and gives advantage to those who can pay for data.||As a concept Airtel Zero has nothing to do with Net Neutrality. It is free for each and every customer and offers the same speed to all. It charges the same amount to each company for data without any discrimination.|
|Speed to access the apps that are not on Airtel Zero will be throttled||Completely incorrect. There is no difference in speed to access various apps, whether they are on Airtel Zero or not.|
Today, some mobile devices can store 50 or more apps, others can store five and some can’t even do so. Will Net Neutrality imply that all devices must be standardised and offered at the same price to make the net neutral?
There are multiple mobile technologies – 2G, 3G, 4G – to access internet. Should all speed and pricing be the same in the garb of Net Neutrality?
Some customers pay cheaper data rates based on volume purchased. Does Net Neutrality imply that everyone must pay the same rate irrespective of usage?
In the end, the debate over the past few days has brought out one thing clearly – a large number of people are still not clear on what Net Neutrality is all about. This gives an opportunity to the so called experts to make various as well as baseless arguments. While their point of view is important, we should have a more informed and nuanced debate without painting a picture that is based on rhetoric rather than reason.
Given the facts above, what better way to contribute to the Digital India vision of the Government of India. Never before has an open and innovative platform like Airtel Zero been on offer that will help drive internet adoption through free usage (and companies and app developers being an equal partner in the process). It will also drive innovation in the Internet and mobile app space by providing a cost-effective and non-discriminatory platform, in particular, to smaller companies. This will truly drive ‘Make in India, For India’.