Flipkart withdraws from Airtel deal after protests

Cong accuses Centre of throttling Net Neutrality

Flipkart withdraws from Airtel deal after protests

Rising protests over the feared scrapping of Net Neutrality has forced leading e-tailer Flipkart to walk out of a preferential deal with Airtel.

The Congress, too, on Tuesday waded into the controversy, accusing the Narendra Modi government of being “hand-in-glove” with telecom service providers to throttle the neutrality of the Internet.

In the last few days, netizens have mounted a fierce opposition to moves by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to open up discussions on Net Neutrality and whether the country needed it.

Simultaneously, on April 6, leading Internet service provider (ISP) Airtel announced the setting up of “Airtel Zero”, a platform that allows preferential access to sites like Flipkart.
This would mean any user who accesses such sites will not be charged mobile data fee, which would be reimbursed to Airtel by the websites.

Netizens perceived this as the beginning of the end of Net Neutrality, as users would prefer to visit these sites as they would be free.

They also feared that this would lead to two classes of websites—one privileged and the other not so. 

Reacting to the rising anger across cyberspace, Flipkart pulled out of the controversial “Airtel Zero” preferential access platform.

For a bigger cause

In a statement, Flipkart said, “We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero [and] we will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of Net Neutrality in India.” The company also said it would internally discuss over the next few days the details of actions to be taken to support the cause.

“We 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 whatsoever,” it said.

The public outrage gained momentum when netizens condemned the scheme as it is against the principles of Net Neutrality, which Internet service providers should comply with.

As per this principle, ISPs and the government should treat all traffic on their networks equally and the users should able to access all websites at the same speed and cost.

Besides withdrawing preferential treatment over any website, net neutrality ensures that the internet should remain a level-playing field and pave the way for innovation.

Sensing the rising protests, the Congress on Tuesday demanded Trai to withdraw the controversial consultation paper that seeks to drive internet traffic to pre-determined websites.

“What is most unfortunate is the fact that the government, Telecom Ministry and Trai are willing abettors in this attempt to put roadblocks in the onward march of a digitally-empowered India,” AICC spokesperson Ajay Maken told reporters in Delhi.

India has nearly 25 crore internet users out of which as many as 17.3 crore access the internet through smartphones.

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