Start-ups, entrepreneurs, politicians, celebrities stoke up the net neutrality debate in India

Created on: 04/17/2015 - 20:26

 

  • Seems like the net neutrality debate is unlikely to quiet down anytime soon in India and the topic continues to be of interest on social media, mainstream news channels, publishers – both online and offline.
  •  
  • In India, over the past few weeks, the drama of net neutrality hit a crescendo owing to two major events. Firstly, TRAI, India’s telecom regulator released a consultation paper that argues that telecom companies have a right to break net neutrality to make higher profits because they incur huge costs on infrastructure and license fees. And secondly, e-commerce firm Flikpart joined hands with Bharti Airtel to become a part of its Airtel Zero service. Since then, Flipkart, which has faced a strong backlash for joining the Airtel Zero programme, has pulled out of the program and the company has come out in support of Net Neutrality.
  •  
  • Airtel launched 'Airtel Zero,' a platform through which it will offer users free access to certain mobile apps on April 6th 2015. These apps will be from developers who have signed up with the company. Airtel plans to allow app developers or web service providers to pay money to Airtel so that these apps and services can be accessed by Airtel users for free.
  •  
  • Another telecom giant Reliance Communications in partnership with Facebook rolled out Internet.org (in India), a nonprofit organization founded by Facebook in association with a clutch of companies. The goal of Internet.org is to bring cheap Internet to all and is aimed at bringing five billion people under the World Wide Web’s fold.
  •  
  • The 150 million customers of Reliance’s mobile service can use Internet.org to gain free access to nearly 40 websites and applications, including Facebook. The websites which were initially part of Internet.org included some of the leading Indian news broadcast and publishing organisations such as Aaj Tak, Amar Ujala, BBC News, Daily Bhaskar, IBN7, India Today, Manorama News, NDTV, Reuters, Times of India and news application NewsHunt, which hosts contents from dozens of other publications. However, many of these organisations have now joined the campaign to support net neutrality.
  •  
  • A day after Flipkart walked out from Airtel Zero, online travel services provider Cleartrip, news broadcaster NDTV and the Times Group pulled out of Facebook and Reliance Communications-promoted platform internet.org as the debate over net neutrality widens.
  •  
  • Here is a look at the various statements issued by start-ups, entrepreneurs, politicians, celebrities expressing their views on the net neutrality in India:
  •  
  • Flipkart: Sachin Bansal, CEO of Flipkart initially defended his company’s decision to be a part of Airtel Zero.
  • However, after backing out of the controversial Airtel Zero service, the company issued a statement, "We at Flipkart have always strongly believed in the concept of net neutrality, for we exist because of the internet. Over the past few days, there has been a great amount of debate, both internally and externally, on the topic of zero rating, and we have a deeper understanding of the implications."
  •  
  • Flipkart added:

 

  • We will be walking away from the ongoing discussions with Airtel for their platform Airtel Zero.
  • We will be committing ourselves to the larger cause of Net Neutrality in India. We will be internally discussing over the next few days, the details of actions we will take 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.
  • Facebook: Founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his position on the #NetNeutrality and Internet.org debate said on a Facebook post:
  • IAMAI: “It looks like Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in its consultation paper, has copy-pasted from submissions of telcos. India has a robust and at times, overbearing IT Act,” IAMAI President Subho Ray said.
  •  
  • Ray said in a statement that, “the paper makes an assumption that Internet doesn’t come under any regulations, which is incorrect. All Internet companies are regulated by IT Act.”
  •  
  • Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad:
  • Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi:
  •  
  • Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir: 
  •  
  • Anurag Thakur, Member of Parliament (LS), President BJP's Youth Wing (BJYM), Secretary BCCI & Chairman:
  •  
  • Baijayant Jay Panda, an Indian politician, currently serving as a Member of the Lok Sabha: 
  •  
  • Prannoy Lal Roy, Co-founder and Exec Co-Chairperson, NDTV: 
  •  
  • Satyan Gajwani, CEO, Times Internet: 
  •  
  • Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder & CEO Paytm / One97 Communication: 
  •  
  • Deepinder Goyal, Founder & CEO, Zomato: 
  •  
  • E-commerce giant Amazon.in: 
  •  
  • Here are a few start-ups and entrepreneurs expressing their views on net neutrality:
  •  
  • “We are in complete favor of net neutrality as the corner stone for the online space is being completely unbiased towards its users, irrespective of the size of various entities. Eventually, it should be left to the consumer to choose what they intend to browse. One must find a fairer way for internet inclusion of those who are still not users. Telecom companies must play it fair while creating commercial value for partners,” said Praveen Sinha, Founder and MD, Jabong.com.
  •  
  • "Airtel Zero seems like an innovative solution to bring Internet to every person. Whether this is on a firm footing or a slippery slope will be decided by the actual implementation. The current way of individual companies buying Internet for their consumers is a slippery slope.
  •  
  • The right way to do it would be through a central consortium formed from the ecommerce companies and who has the interests of both the startups in this sector and the end users in mind. After all Internet is all about freedom of choice. Keeping in mind that currently it would be free only if you use a particular company makes it free at the cost of the freedom of choice it offers. This is everyone's loss." said Yogendra Vasupal, Founder, Stayzilla, an online accommodations marketplace.
  •  
  • Suvro Ghosh, Founder, HelpMeDoc, an online platform for all healthcare needs, said, "For starters, in a country like India Net Neutrality has vast implications, especially for start-ups many of whom are dependent on the medium for the success of their business. A neutral internet means a level playing field by which innovative ideas get a platform to grow and add back to the economy of the country. Non Net Neutrality will diminish innovation and hurt consumers in the long run."
  •  
  • “As a start- up,we are opposing any invasion on freedom of internet. In an equal opportunity world, why should access to any website or an application be restricted or controlled in terms of its speed or availability?After the advent of internet in India, especially in the last 15 years, millions of youths found employment opportunities and millions of others became entrepreneurs tapping all the resources offered by the internet.
  •  
  • Restricting net neutrality by imposing tariff to access every website or an app on a mobile phone would first kill small businesses. For, the service providers may coerce the website/app companies to pay for letting their channels pass through the respective service providers’ internet gateway.
  •  
  • Aside from this, there could be a cannibalisation effect on the small internet businesses which are catering to the large-scale employment needs of skilled and semi-skilled people. Meaning, a service provider may tend to gobble up the small, but popular, internet businesses by demanding equity in those companies or levy a hefty charge for letting the websites/apps pass through their gateway. Or, they can enter such businesses by opening up their own platforms and kill the competition. And, payment for accessing a website or an app is so far unheard of. The payment for websites/apps individually has never been a tried and tested method. It is detrimental in Indian context, now or ever.” said Chennapa Naidu Darapaneni, Founder & CEO, Meraevents.com, an event technology company, Hyderabad.
  •  
  • Shiju Radhakrishnan, Founder & CEO, iTraveller.com, said, Not upholding Net Neutrality is akin to creating a caste system on Internet. It is disturbing to think of Internet without one of it's basic tenets-Neutrality. If we differentiate between types of data and charge consumers based on that, soon we might have a future where breathing air would be charged differentially based on type and quantity of air we are breathing. Internet is as necessary for the life of a startup as air is for everything living. 
  •  
  • We are able to see this kind of growth and innovation in startups, propelling the economy forward in no small measure, only due to the democratic nature of the Internet. 
  •  
  • If what TRAI is trying to do goes through we will see Indian startups with limited resources dying a premature death. For startups, in addition to getting good people to work for them, arranging funds, getting traction, proving business model, there would be one more insurmountable problem to solve-getting the desired bandwidth for their apps to compete against the bigwigs of the industry. Startups which usually do not have deep pockets are going to have a tough time. India is on a dream run of growth and Innovation and this is no time to create a digital License raj by ignoring Net Neutrality.
  • Net neutrality ensures that level playing where true innovation and relentless industry will always win. It is the last resort of free speech, of meritocracy and of ambitious dreams.”
  •  
  • Harsh Shah, Co-Founder Shopsense, said, “Any initiative which creates barriers for innovation is absolutely very bad for the country as a whole. Not only does it stifle existing companies trying to break through, but also highly discourages new entrepreneurs. Companies having the money to pay the “license” for this will benefit by protectionist policies, but overall there will be a decline in the ecosystem as a whole. It is as good as getting back to license raj."
  •  
  • Piyush Paul, Founder & Director - Marketing, Unlockar Apps, said, "In India, like we have aspiring youth looking forward to reach the skies after the rapid success stories of financially less privileged founders making it big on internet. Similarly, there are aspiring countries on the world map that look forward to internet skill development of their population to ensure their growth and grip. Taiwan announcing itself as first Free Wi-Fi country was a big step on that front. Discrimination on the internet, favoring a few on any basis, challenges the basic definition of internet i.e. free community with equal reach and rights for all. It is a two way negative for the society, one by killing the aspirations of skilful people and growing countries of making it big in the world market and secondly by killing the consumer lucidity of trying a competitive and better product."
  •  
  • Bikash Barai, Co-Founder & CEO, iViZ, said, "Net neutrality is important for providing a level field for the best product to win. If we create a discriminating environment, then it is bad for the ecosystem since it artificially creates an unfair barrier for new entrants. It is detrimental for the customer and the innovative startups. Internet should be open and neutral."
  •  
  • "Based on the fundamentals of free speech and knowledge sharing, Fabric of the Internet was built by its founders to be free and equal for all. Net neutrality is the right to communicate freely, without bias and it needs to be preserved to allow for innovation.
  •  
  • A company, just because it is rich in funds and has the ability to subsidise its usage, shouldn't have an advantage over the scarcely funded competitors and start-ups.  It would prohibit any disruptively innovative idea to flourish, stifling overall growth.
  •  
  • Internet service providers shouldn't be allowed to have a say on what passes through their pipes. They are a medium for delivery and should maintain the level playing field. Even the father of the Web, said that ISPs can't be allowed to become gatekeepers and hand pick the winners and losers and show favoritism towards their own sites and services or take money to provide advantage to some over others. It's almost like taking bribe." said Ankur Saxena, CEO of Oxigen Wallet, and President, Technology Innovation.
  •  
  • Mangesh Panditrao, Co-founder & CEO, Shoptimize & Cooliyo, said, “It is very important that we do not let differential pricing and performance creep into the internet. Budding online brands in India are already struggling to reach the target audience due to the huge marketing and advertising barriers created by large players. . It will become even more difficult for them if they have to pay to maintain a level playing field in terms of bandwidth. One of the things that has really worked well for our app cooliyo is the fact that we show products purely on the basis of their merit and popularity thus keeping away any bias. Cooliyo is focused on democratizing shopping for women in India. It makes good business sense based on our experience to let the community decide what to see and what not to. It would be quite ironic if we now suddenly have to face a bias while we try to reach our own community. It would be a massive setback for several startups such as ours.”
  •  
  • Raj Iyer, Founder & CMD, icustommadeit, said, “Today, several start-up companies are extensively using the internet through which they  interact and engage with the customer on a daily basis. Especially for smaller companies who work on tight marketing budgets, every overhead is a cost they can save, and free internet gives them a whole new world of opportunity to explore. In the absence of net neutrality, the whole consumer experience will take a beating. It will only act as a barrier to growth so let's save the internet! Internet was is and is always meant to be free. The absence of this will lead to monopolies by a select few and will hurt the smaller start-ups. This is blatant misuse of operator bandwidth licenses issued by the Government.”
  •  
  • Aditya Poonia, Assistant Country Manager, Tripda, said, “Tripda strongly supports net neutrality. If you think about the travel industry - most of the digital segment is pushed through discovery of different prices offered by service providers. Having pushed biased content will not only disrupt the existing fair ecosystem but will also promote undemocratic practices.​” 
Share it now!

About Author

IDR Bureau