Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has reportedly joined the Airtel Zero platform. The controversial platform by Airtel allows users to access certain services and apps without incurring data charges. The telecom company is reportedly also in talks with a bunch of other companies to join the platform.
The controversy around the Airtel Zero platform relates to net neutrality. The service has been said to be against the very definition of the concept. Using this service, the user will be allowed to access select content within certain apps without any data charges. The platform appears to give an advantage to apps and companies that can spend money. For example, while Flipkart may be able to pay for being on the Airtel Zero platform, smaller e-commerce portals may not.
Airtel of course has a different outlook on this. Srini Gopalan, Director, Consumer Business, Bharti Airtel, said, “The results of our pilot program indicate that ‘Airtel Zero’ can deliver the same results as traditional digital marketing channels at 1/3rd the cost – thus underscoring the immense value it can deliver for developers across. Following an extremely successful pilot phase, we are seeing a lot of interest from businesses across the board (including several small startup firms), and expect a large number of applications to sign on. We invite all application developers to register their interest in ‘Airtel Zero’ and see the compelling reach it can deliver to Airtel’s 200 million plus customers across India."
Here's how the service works.
1. Mobile app makers register with ‘Airtel Zero’ to give customers free access to their apps
2. Airtel informs customers about these free apps
3. Customers download and access these apps at zero data charges – and enjoy their favorite online tasks (e.g. entertainment, shopping) for free – even with zero mobile balance
Flipkart on the other hand issued the following statement,
"We would not like to comment on speculation regarding any future associations that may or may not happen. All our activities in the past have always been completely compliant with all laws including those formed by TRAI – and we continue to remain committed to that."
This is not the first time that such a service has been suggested. Well known Internet browser, Opera, has a service known as App Max, which is a compression tool that lets telecom companies allow free access to select Android apps. Similarly, Facebook has a partnership with RCom through Internet.org, which offers free access to certain websites through its networks.
Further, with the growing data usage amongs consumers in India, telecom companies have been looking to monetise this side of their services. There have been talks about charging for VoIP, WhatsApp etc. India’s regulatory body, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has asked responses to 20 questions related to licensing of Over-The-Top services. If you'd like to speak up for or against net neutrality, you can send in your response by 24 April 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can download TRAI’s 118 page paper here.