Airtel supports net neutrality; defends toll free platform

New Delhi: In the eye of the storm over net neutrality, Bharti Airtel on Friday said it will always provide same treatment to every website and application irrespective of whether they are on its toll free platform or not.

Launched last week, Airtel Zero is an open-marketing platform that allows customers to access certain mobile apps for free with charges being borne by the app makers. The company has drawn flak on social media for violating the concept of net neutrality.

"Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media," Bharti Airtel MD and CEO (India and South Asia) Gopal Vittal said in
a letter to its employees. "I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality," he added.

Vittal said the platform is open to all app developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis and same rate card is offered to all. "There is no difference between this and toll free voice such as 1-800," he said.

Vittal said every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on its network whether they
are on the toll free platform or not. "As a company we do not ever block or provide any differential speeds to any website. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business," he said.

The head of country's largest telecom operator said there has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that it will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. "This is untrue. After all we earn revenue from data. If there are more customers who are on the internet the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited," he added.

The debate over net neutrality has gained momentum after Airtel announced the marketing platform. Due to the outrage over social media, e-commerce major Flipkart has withdrawn from Airtel Zero.

Meanwhile, Cleartrip, NDTV and Times Group have logged out from internet.org platform of Facebook, where Reliance Communication is a partner. The telecom sector regulator TRAI has invited comments from public on a discussion paper for policy framework on net-neutrality and internet-based messaging and calling service providers such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Google Talk.

An intense debate, including on social media platforms, began on the issue of net neutrality after some telecom firms, including Bharti Airtel and RCom announced services that are being billed as going against the concept of maintaining equal internet access for all.

These platforms claim to allow users to access a variety of mobile and internet app for free, but the critics allege that these services restrict the 'free' access to a select group of websites and apps and therefore sabotage the entire concept of keeping the internet free.

The proponents of net neutrality claim that these initiatives go against the principle of net neutrality that calls for service providers treating all traffic on their networks equally.

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