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Net neutrality: Start-ups cry foul over Airtel, FB, RCom plans

Mumbai, Apr 13, 2015, (PTI) 18:29 IST
Dh Illustration for Representation purpose only
Start-up IT firms and their investors today said they are at a disadvantageous position in the wake of giants like Airtel, RCom and Facebook coming out with schemes that restrict free Internet access to select platforms.

According to Mahesh Murthy, managing partner of Seedfund, "These schemes will be specially disadvantageous to start-ups, who will have to pay the distributor to offer their apps on the platform, and this will lead to monopolisation by a few and squeeze out the small companies."

Bandwidth is a national resource, he said, adding, "since the government has issued licences to operators to offer the service, they should not misuse it. The internet is a service that should be equally accessible by all."

The zero-rated app marketing platform by telcos proposes that customers can access apps of participating product developers for free. The app developers will pay the operators on behalf of the customer for the usage.

Zishaan Hayath, an angel investor and co-founder of online test preparation site Toppr.com, says, "There are two issues. As an entrepreneur who has built a career around the internet, I feel there should be equal access to information and services on the internet."

Second, as far as zero-rated app marketing platforms are concerned, he felt it is fine as long as it is open to all apps, and does not favour some over others.

"Otherwise, some companies will face unfair disadvantages, and some will be favoured," he said.

More than one lakh internet users have expressed discontent so far via emails to the Telecom Regulatory Authority (Trai) to save net neutrality through the website www.savetheinternet.in.

Murthy said, "I have invested in over 51 start-ups and all of them support net neutrality, and I know thousands of others from the investor and entrepreneurial community who have signed the petition. None that I know are in support of such initiatives."

Country's largest e-commerce company Flipkart has come under flak, specially in social media, following reports suggesting they are joining the Airtel Zero app platform and Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal's tweets in defence of Airtel's Zero app marketing platform.

Similarly, the largest telco Bharti Airtel has also been criticised for its new data plan under Airtel Zero, which delivers free access to select applications through marketing tie-ups with companies. Similarly, the Internet.org by Facebook and Reliance Communications have also drawn flak from activists and consumers.

Airtel has said that 'Airtel Zero' platform is focussed on offering customers "free" access to mobile apps and the debate that the product violates principles of net neutrality is "unrelated".

"While opinions from critics of the product are very welcome, it's pertinent that we set the record straight. Since we announced Airtel Zero on April 6, over 150 start-ups – with a majority being small start-ups – have contacted to enquire about the product," Bharti Airtel Director Consumer Business Srini Gopalan had said.

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