Net Neutrality: Airtel’s Zero Concern for the Customer

“Any idea expressed with sufficient equivocation, is indistinguishable from gibberish.”

“What on earth does this mean?” you must all be asking yourselves, which is indeed very much the same question I asked myself after I read through the Airtel Zero plan, crafted in loving detail and ironically termed “the Airtel pledge”.


But before we go any further, let’s get a few things clear: What is Net Neutrality?

Well, it’s a principle whereby all the information on the internet is treated equally, i.e. a video of a cat playing the banjo should not be any easier or harder to access, than, say, a dissertation on fundamental civic rights. Everyone who has access to the internet, has access to EVERY SINGLE website at the SAME SPEED, without paying ANYTHING MORE than the fee for an internet connection.

While it is true that there are some web sites that choose to restrict certain information with a price tag, this is perfectly permissible because they are charging for the information itself, not the marvelous opportunity to pay money again to get access to this information later.

However, Net Neutrality exists purely as a concept and not a law, and nowhere is this loophole as abused as it is in the Indian sub-continent.


Which is where the man with the postpaid plan, Mr. Gopal Vittal (Managing Director and CEO of Airtel) comes in.

According to the confusingly-worded “Airtel pledge”, the upcoming Airtel Zero plan is supposedly marketed towards the consumers, following a “toll-free” line of thinking so that Airtel customers no longer have to pay money to use web services such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype…which they barely do anyway.

“There is no difference between this and the toll-free voice services such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrolls into the toll-free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged.”

Long story short: if a company agrees to pay Airtel a part of its revenue, Airtel will make it easier for the subscriber to access the company’s website.

But wait, are you confused by the last line? Apart from toll-free numbers, you’ll still have to pay for a phone call. The statement towards the end seems to imply that you would have to pay to access websites that don’t join this toll-free plan, in addition to the Airtel subscription fee…

Well whatever you might have understood starts to fall apart with statements like:

“Every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll-free platform or not.”

Long story short: *sigh* You’re not really trying to make sense, are you Mr. Vittal? Yet, I have this vague suspicion that that’s your intention.

The best part about the “Airtel Pledge” is that statements like the above one try to distract us from the point trying to be made.

“Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.”

The Airtel pledge understates the fact that web sites and services that DO get on the platform will have to pay a part of their revenue, along with a little extra for data traffic that goes through their websites, in ADDITION to the charges they pay for BEING ON THE INTERNET.

Long story short: They have to pay money to Airtel, to be allowed to pay money to Airtel.

The next logical step, then, is to transfer these costs to the customer. Think of it as a “Value-Subtracted-Tax” (VST) [copyright pending] that you have to pay every time you go onto a website like 9gag, because that site has to pay a ridiculously high fee because of all the registered AND unregistered users who are online.

In the meantime, smaller companies who cannot afford to, or who choose not to pay Airtel, will have their internet speeds throttled when users try to access the website, while data charges (2G/3G/4G/Internet Data) unavoidably increase, steadily reducing traffic to the site in the long run.

So saying something like: “instead of charging the customers, we charge the providers” sounds like a dubious way to say that neither the consumer, nor the company will have a choice in the matter.


The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is “trying” (haha) to fight this problem, and while it “claims” to be succeeding [somewhat], Airtel doesn’t look like it will back down anytime soon…

#airtel #zero #internetaccess #freedom #your #right #article19


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