Net neutrality, Airtel zero and some myths

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Ravi Padmaraj, MBA 2014-16, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur.

On 14th april 2015, business standard reported that Flikpart has pulled out of Airtel zero initiative. The past few days have seen an extreme uproar over Airtel violating the net neutrality principles and there have been a lot of instances of people urging their friends to boycott Airtel services. One fact worth mentioning at this juncture is that, Airtel zero is an entirely different initiative from charging more for free messaging services like Whatsapp. From a consumer’s perspective, Airtel Zero does not take away any of the benefits enjoyed by the customers,in fact it adds extra benefits in the form of free services. But the so called net neutrality activists with their social media campaign have created a shadow of doubt over the future of India’s largest telecom provider: A perfect example of the devastating potential of social media and how easy it is to manipulate mob psychology through social media.

Even though Airtel zero doesn’t violate net neutrality principles, it has a serious flaw. Airtel zero does not discriminate companies or apps. Nor does it provide better speeds for some apps. It just allows you to access some websites free. Just like the way, some companies allow you toll free numbers for information regarding their products. The only flaw in this initiative is not related to customers but related to companies. It does hinder fair competition. It eliminates the level playing ground that the internet startups have enjoyed till now. But then so does the toll free numbers, and why this uproar now. Because unfortunately just two months before Airtel made another controversial decision to charge more for internet based messaging services and duly backed out from it after the protests. That incident had created a perception in people’s mind that Airtel is against net neutrality. And now every decision taken by Airtel is viewed through that lens. A perfect example of how perception of people can plan havoc in your fortunes: Time for Airtel Public Relation department to get into action and do some damage control.