A day after Flipkart dropped itsplansto joinAirtelZero amid a public backlash,onlinetravelportalCleartrip on Wednesday said thecompanyhas pulled out of Internet.org — a joint venture between Facebook andRelianceCommunications— insupportofnetneutrality.
Internet.org is an initiativelaunchedin August 2013 by Facebook, along with sevenmobilephoneandservicescompanies—Samsung,Ericsson, MediaTek,Microsoft, OperaSoftware,RelianceCommunicationsand Qualcomm —
with the goal of providing affordablenetaccess. InIndia, Internet.org waslaunchedin a partnership between RCom and Facebook. Togetaccess to thissystem, a usershouldbe a customer of RCom and is entitled to free access to around 40 websites. However, anyinternetuser who browses outside the designated freewebsitesof Internet.org will have to pay charges according to thedataplansof RCom.
“Therecentdebate aroundnetneutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and theideaof large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started of with providing a simplesearchservicehas us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against ourcoreDNA,” Subramanya Sharma, CMO, Cleartrip, wrote in the company’s official blog on Wednesday.
Further explaining the reason for Cleartrip’s initial participation in Internet.org, Sharma said the participation did not entail any revenue arrangement between thecompanyand Internet.org or any of its participants. Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to asocialcause, he said.
“So, while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (bothrealand perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely,” the blog stated.
The debate overnetneutrality has been raging afterAirtelannouncedAirtelZero, aserviceto deliver free access to select applications against a fee, to be paid by the respective appdevelopersorcompanies, throughmarketingtie-ups. Flipkart was among the firstcompaniesto consider availing the services.Netneutrality propagates thatinternetserviceproviders and the governmentsshouldtreatalldataon theinternetequally, without charging differentially bycontent,site,application, etc. They further insist thatAirtelZero’s modus operandi stands in blatant violation ofnetneutrality.
Reliancehad got into tie-ups which allegedly violatednetneutrality earlier as well.Reliancehad announced in 2012 that it wouldofferfree Facebook and WhatsApp for R16 a month, without any additionaldatacosts. The very next year, in 2013, they had announced a similar Twitter pack.
Flipkart’s Bansal had earlier tweeted that zeo rating ofappsdo not violatenetneutrality, stoking consumer backlash. It had led to users doling out one-star rating to its app onGooglePlay. Zero rating is a practice amongmobilenetworkoperators, wherecustomersare not charged for a certain volume ofdataby specific applications orinternetservices.
“Public pressure will play a verybigrole in shaping the law and debate around it. There is a lot of awareness generated. There is enough public pressure on thegovernmentand businesses to makes sure thatnetneutrality is maintained.AirtelZero isjustanother backdoor way of defeatingnetneutrality.Today, they willgiveit for free, but that might not be forever. It’s a way for users togetaccustomed to the app and the payment part will come later. Users are already paying for the money and are comfortable with this,” Antony Alex, CEO, MyLaw.net, told FE.