COAI: Supporting Zero Rating Services Is Supporting Net Neutrality

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which is comprised of network providers such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea has started a campaign dubbed #sabkainternet in order to show their support for Net Neutrality in India.
It might have come as a hurrah moment for many net neutrality advocates, but dwelling a bit deeper into the prospects of what the COAI is really trying to do, reveals something sinister.
The COAI’s campaign is far from straightforward, and lacks all explanation of what supporting their version of Net Neutrality really means. It’s no secret that the COAI is backing zero rating services such as Airtel Zero (yes the one which kicked off the whole Net Neutrality debate in the first place).
While we see hardly anything wrong with the COAI trying to push its agenda for allowing the zero rating of apps and services, it’s the way the body has gotten around to doing it that irks us. The body’s #sabkainternet campaign hardly clarifies what its true stand is.
People have begun receiving an SMS that reads “COAI supports #SabkaInternet. I believe that I should have a right to choose what I access on the internet. To support, give a missed call to 1800 270 6899.”
Upon calling the number, users hear a message that says:

Thank you for supporting #SabkaInternet for a Digital Bharat with:
#1 Right to choose what you want to access
#2. Right to an affordable Internet
#3. Access to solutions that make internet affordable for you
#4. Same rules being applicable for the same services
To opt-out give a missed call to 02261227979

The third point does point at COAI’s agenda of pushing zero rating services, such as Airtel Zero, but it’s rather subtle. Airtel and other telecom operators, despite their massive marketing push haven’t been able to garner public support, but is using such a tactic right?
People on social networks and the media have pointed out just this, in the hope that those less informed do have a chance to rightly decide what opting in means for them. By flaunting the tag of net neutrality, while not explaining the implications, does seem to be quite a shady practice.
Airtel Zero might just be a great business proposition that infringes on some of the core aspects of net neutrality, however rather than working to fix it, telecom operators are merely trying to hoodwink users into believing it’s right. Here’s a great case of that.
A lot right now is hinging on TRAI’s report on OTT services in India, but sensing the negativity surrounding the issue, even the Modi government has become weary and has clarified that it will support net neutrality.

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