After Net Neutrality backlash, Airtel’s CEO seeks to clear misconceptions

Airtel’s CEO, Gopal Vittal has written a mail to customers explaining that his firm is committed to net neutrality. Here is the full text of his e-mail :
Dear friends,

Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll-free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information being carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality. Allow us to put forth our stand on this issue.

1. Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and don’t know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet, they will join the digital revolution.

2. Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.

3. Our platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non-discriminatory basis.

4. There is no difference between this and the toll-free voice services such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrolls into the toll-free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged. Calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else our whole business would be jeopardized.

A toll-free voice service helps the business owners engage with their customers. At the same time it provides the customers the benefit of reaching the business for free. Toll-free voice is not a product or a tariff plan – it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll-free voice to the world of data. As a result, it is for the application developers and their customers to decide how data charges will be paid for.

If an application developer is on the platform, he pays for the data and his customers don’t. If the developer is not on the platform, the customers pay for the data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which website they want to visit – whether it is toll-free or not. If they visit a toll-free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site, normal data charges apply.

5. Every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll-free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block or provide any differential speeds to any website. We have never done it, and will never do it. We believe our customers are the reason we are in business. As a result, we will always do what is right for our customers.

6. Based on the interest evinced by many small companies, we believe that our platform is especially attractive for them since they will now be able to get their content and applications to their customers at a fraction of the cost of other digital marketing alternatives. Data charges when paid for by companies are almost next to nothing compared to the marketing costs paid by small start-ups to discover apps.

7. There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all, we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet, the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of megabytes, not which site they visited.

In sum our platform is a technology platform and is open to all the application developers and their customers. Our platform only provides a choice of how the data that is consumed is paid for by any of the two – the application providers or their customers. Whether any application provider enrolls on the platform or not is entirely his choice. All we have is a technology. We don’t have a product or a tariff plan that we have launched. We simply have a platform. And every application developer and their customer is free to choose in an entirely neutral way what they want to do.

In conclusion, we stand fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister’s vision of digital India are met. Once again, you are the reason we are in business.

Gopal Vittal
MD & CEO (India and South Asia)
Bharti Airtel


Related articles on Net Neutrality:

Net Neutrality in India : Pay Rs 250 per month to access WhatsApp or Facebook

What India Inc thinks about Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: Why we must preserve the openness of the Internet

Net Neutrality: Differential pricing will hit India’s digital economy

Victory for Net Neutrality movement in India; Flipkart and Cleartrip pull out

Facebook founder Zuckerberg: can co-exist with net neutrality regulations

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