Contrary to what is being projected by some, the Airtel Zero is not going to split Indian internet into, free or paid, local or global or big or small. Nor its a threat to net neutrality. We need to come out of that herd race to get a clear picture

airtel-zero-net-neutralityOver the pas few days, since Airtel Zero was launched by Bharti Airtel on April 6, a heated debate is going on over net neutrality and the very basis of ‘free’ internet is being discussed, dissected in such a manner, it appears as if, some kind of ‘extra terrestrials’ are invading Indian Internet space. And if we do not protest, and protect ourselves right now, we are going to loose our identity, and probably, will be ‘extinct’ very soon. The mood in media, to join the debate, is euphoric. So euphoric that, in all channels of media, like conventional, online and social, the participants started abusing and threatening others, and each other.

Though I’m all for net neutrality and total freedom of the internet, it would not be correct to nip the bud of innovation in the name of net neutrality. Airtel Zero is an innovating marketing approach, whic on the face of it, appears to be a win-win situation for both the parties – consumer and app developers.

Still, for the sake of our readers, it is of utmost importance to discuss the issue in details.

But what was the issue? Is ‘Airtel Zero’ the issue or ‘net neutrality’ the issue? I have a very simple and plain question to ask. “Do you clearly understand the ‘Airtel Zero’ plan and the concept of ‘net neutrality’?, or “Are you part of the herd who without having clarity over an issue, join the crowd, and follow a trail that leads to nowhere”?

Let’s Understand Net Neutrality

Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality), according to Wikipedia, is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

In simpler terms, it means, the government or an internet service provider should not charge internet or data usage in differential method. One should not be charged differently for different applications, or your data download or upload speed should not be different for different content types. Means, you should not be charged, at one rate for using GMail and on other rate for Facebook, or for other applications. Your data speed should not be X mbps for Flipkart and Y mbps for Snapdeal, or like this.

Let’s Understand Airtel Zero

Airtel Zero is a plan or platform where app developers or enterprises can put their apps to be used by Airtel’s customers. And if a customer choose to use these apps, that are there on Airtel Zero, he does not have to pay for the data charges. Instead, the app company would pay for your data usage for that particular app. Clear? Means, if apps like A, B and C are on Airtel Zero and you choose to use apps A, B, C and D, then you do not have to pay for the data charges for A, B and C but will have to pay for D. So, is there any rate difference for using these four apps? No. The difference is, for using some apps ‘you’ are paying Airtel and for some other apps, there is ‘someone else’ paying Airtel for that data usage. So, no app or data is freely provided. Means, there is no ‘free’ or ‘paid’ concept or internet, as pointed by some media. Every app or every bit of data is being paid, but paying parties are different. Sometimes, its you, sometimes its ‘Flipkart’, for an example. So, no violation of net neutrality.

What’s For Consumers?

Let’s take an example. You are a prepaid customer and you are on 1 GB data/month plan which costs you Rs 200. Before using Airtel Zero, you used to consume the entire data of 1 GB every month and you recharge it next month for the same amount. Now, as per Airtel Zero, and according to the company, if you start using the apps that are there on Airtel Zero, you will be consuming less data and your quota of 1 GB will take more than one month to be consumed. Its because the ‘data meter’ like your taxi meter, will stop when you switch to Airtel Zero apps from the non-Airtel zero apps. Means, you consume less of your ‘own’ data which can then be carry forwarded to the next month. So, in reality, you might use the same 1 GB/month data for 2 months, hence you pay Rs 200 for the duration of 2 months compared to 1 month in earlier scenario. Isn’t that good for consumers? So, no violation of net neutrality.

Whats For App Developers?

On the face of it, Airtel Zero is a great platform for the app developers, be small or big. And I tend to believe it till the time i don’t find any substantial evidence against the platform. Now, lets understand it from an app developer’s perspective.

First, the case of a start-up. If the start-up comes on board on Airtel zero, and its app becomes available on the platform, it reaches to the number of mobile subscribers that Airtel has, say 200 million. According to the company, Airtel will also promote the brand by various means like sending out SMSes or branding it on its e-bills. So the start-ups gain access to much wider potential customers, and by doing so, they can reduce their marketing cost. As per Airtel, it can be brought down to one third of the average cost. So, what’s wrong in this?

Now, for big enterprises. Airtel Zero would treat the big guys the same way it treats the start-ups. The big guys might not in the need of Airtel’s endorsement but certainly, they get additional access to the millions of Airtel’s customers. So, there is nothing called ‘global’ or ‘local’ internet. So, no violation of net neutrality.


Now, let’s see if Airtel Zero violates net neutrality. Contrary to what is being projected, there will not be a split internet in India. Different apps are not charged differently. There will not be any ‘free app’ or ‘paid app’. All data will be paid, but the paying party might be different, sometimes its ‘you’, sometimes its the ‘app company’. The data speed will not vary depending on the app you use, but as usual, on the data plan you choose. The app guys will not have any control on the data you consume nor on its speed. It is controlled by you, by the way you use your data and by the data plan you choose. Whether paid by you or by the app company, all data and all kind of apps will be available to you, the way you are getting now. So, its wrong to portray that one would get deprived of some data, violating the law. So, there is no link of net neutrality and Airtel Zero, and there is no violation of the basis of net neutrality in this case.


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