Friday 17 April 2015

Flipkart & flipside

Even as it pulled out of talks on joining Airtel Zero, native e-commerce major Flipkart asserted that “it has always believed in the concept of Net Neutrality.” Net Neutrality provides equal treatment for all traffic on the Net by Internet service providers. Airtel Zero, a platform launched by Airtel last week, allows subscribers free browsing of websites of companies that join the platform for a fee. That Flipkart junked its plan to join Airtel Zero is a shot in the arm for advocates of Net Neutrality.
Nevertheless, the Flipkart pull-out has raised many questions.
Are Flipkart bosses so naive not to know the implications of a platform such as Airtel Zero for the overall Internet ecosystem?
How come they suddenly wake up to reiterate their support to Net Neutrality?
Flipkart is an iconic brand in the burgeoning Indian e-commerce space. Perhaps, this has emboldened its bosses to ignore the unwritten rules in their pursuit for faster growth.
The pull out from talks with Airtel appears to be have been necessitated by the strong adverse reaction from netizens across the country. A combination of rising tide of support for Net Neutrality and down-rating of its apps by customers has indeed forced Flipkart to quit talks. But for its iconic status, Flipkart’s actions — its initial talks with Airtel and the subsequent pull out — would have gone unnoticed. Again, its iconic status has ensured national headlines for whatever Flipkart does.
Looking from this angle, Flipkart’s ‘righting’ action has given a huge fillip to the protagonists of Net Neutrality. It is a wake up call for Airtel and telcos to rework their strategies. The telcos need to look at innovative ways of offering value added services to boost their revenues within the overall framework of Net Neutrality.
In the evolving dynamics of the world, however, disruptions are going to be the order of the day. We have seen how many old economy players were consigned to the pages of history due to technological changes that could not be really termed disruptive in that period and context.
Technological changes are happening at a rapid pace now. Instead of raising new walls of protectionism, the world will be better served if companies across the value chain — be it telcos or e-commerce players or content providers — reconfigure their businesses so as to remain flexible and cost-effective all the time in an environment that is prone to quicker pace of technological disruptions.


Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all traffic and content on their networks equally.

How does net neutrality affect you?

The internet is now a level-playing field. Anybody can start up a website, stream music or use social media with the same amount of data that they have purchased with a particular ISP. But in the absence of neutrality, your ISP might favour certain websites over others for which you might have to pay extra. Website A might load at a faster speed than Website B because your ISP has a deal with Website A that Website B cannot afford. It’s like your electricity company charging you extra for using the washing machine, television and microwave oven above and beyond what you are already paying.

Key Players

  • » Internet Service Providers like Airtel, Vodaphone, Reliance...
  • » The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India which lays down the rules for telecom companies
  • » The Internet companieslike Facebook, Google, whatsapp and other smaller startups
  • » You, the consumer

Why now?

Late last month, TRAI released a draft consultation paper seeking views from the industry and the general public on the need for regulations for over-the-top (OTT) players such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber etc, security concerns and net neutrality. The objective of this consultation paper, the regulator said, was to analyse the implications of the growth of OTTs and consider whether or not changes were required in the current regulatory framework.

What is an OTT?

OTT or over-the-top refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators’ networks offering internet access services. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, e-commerce sites, Ola, Facebook messenger.

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