E-commerce giant Flipkart on Tuesday said it is "walking away" from Airtel Zero as it is committed to "the larger cause of net neutrality" but Bharti Airtel said it also fully supported the concept and there was some "misconception" about its toll-free platform.
"We at Flipkart have always strongly believed in the concept of net neutrality, for we exist because of the Internet," said the e-commerce company in a statement.
"We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero. We will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of net neutrality in India. We will be internally discussing over the next few days, the details of actions we will take to support the cause," the statement added.
Bharti Airtel recently launched Airtel Zero, an open marketing platform that will allow customers to access mobile applications at zero data charges.
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Reacting to Flipkart's decision, the telecom major said it is also on the same page regarding net neutrality. "Airtel fully supports the concept of net neutrality. There have been some misconceptions about our toll-free data platform Airtel Zero," it said in a statement.
It stressed that Airtel Zero is a not a tariff proposition but is an open marketing platform that allows any application or content provider to offer their service on a toll-free basis to their customers who are on Airtel network.
"Such customers, whether on a data pack or not, will, therefore, be able to access these toll-free services free of charge. No site, whether on the toll free platform or not, under any circumstances is blocked, throttled or provided any form of preferential access," Airtel added.
Flipkart stated that over the past few days, there has been a great amount of debate, "both internally and externally, on the topic of zero rating, and we have a deeper understanding of the implications".
In a series of tweets, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal said he was all for net neutrality.
"I spend time/money helping start-ups in India. I will never support things which suffocate innovation," he said.
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Observing that zero-rated apps for limited time were not against net neutrality, Bansal said such apps could not be sustained for long as costs and competition were very high.
"Zero-rating only reduces data costs for users. Fears of a telecom big brother emerging are unfounded. Choice wins. Always," Bansal tweeted.
Following criticism by twitterati of its proposal to tie-up with Airtel, Flipkart said it was committed to the larger cause of net neutrality.
Flipkart also said it will be working towards ensuring that the spirit of net neutrality is upheld and applied equally to all companies in India irrespective of the size or the service being offered and there is absolutely no discrimination.
Net neutrality means that governments and internet service providers should treat all data on the internet equally -- therefore, not charging users, content, platform, site, application or mode of communication differentially.
Reacting on the issue, N. Chandramouli, CEO of Trust Research Advisory -- the publishers of the Brand Trust Report, said: "From a brand point of view we can already see it is impacting and hampering the equation with telecom brands such as Airtel, which decided in December 2014 that they would charge more for calls made through services like Skype and Viber, but had to roll back the decision after outrage on social networks."
Amid a huge hue and cry in social media over net neutrality, Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday that a panel examining the issue will submit its report by the second week of May to help the government take a comprehensive decision on the contentious issue.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Congress leader Ajay Maken said his party supports net neutrality and internet freedom must not be compromised, while Nasscom president R. Chandrahekhar told IANS that India should move in the direction of net neutrality as benefits of internet are manifold.
"We are soon submitting a detailed response to the TRAI paper on the issue, as we are equally concerned about the need to maintain net neutrality not only for the benefit of millions of netizens, but also other users such as entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and others," he said.
In March, telecom regulator TRAI released a paper inviting comments from users and companies on how over-the-top services should be regulated in the country, seeking stakeholders' suggestions by April 24 and counter-arguments by May 8.