Wednesday 15 April 2015

Net neutrality gets big boost as Flipkart quits Airtel Zero

The fight to protect net neutrality in India received a major boost on Tuesday with home-grown online retail giant Flipkart walking out of the controversial platform, Airtel Zero, floated by telecom giant Bharti Airtel.

Flipkart, the poster child for India's start-up revolution, said it was committed to the "larger cause of net neutrality" in India. "We at Flipkart have always strongly believed in the concept of net neutrality, for we exist because of the internet," the Bangalore-headquartered company said.

The platform, launched earlier this month by India's biggest telecom company, promised preferential treatment to websites over the internet, but for a fee. It promised free consumer browsing and special promotional campaigns for companies which subscribed to the plan, a move seen as grossly violating net neutrality, which envisages that all data and websites should be treated and charged equally.

Flipkart — whose founder and CEO Sachin Bansal had defended the decision to join the Airtel plan as recently as April 8 — had come under a barrage of criticism. Social media activists had issued calls to boycott the company's website and its app rating had been downgraded in app stores.

On Tuesday, the company said it had taken note of the growing chatter over net neutrality before pulling the plug on the Airtel plan. "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. Based on this, we have decided to walk away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero."

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