Airtel has been in damage control ever since Net Neutrality advocates lashed out at its Airtel Zero platform, and things only seemed to go from bad to worse when e-commerce player Flipkart pulled out of the program.
Now, the company is going all out to raise awareness about Airtel Zero – explaining things (also leaving a few questions unanswered) and even questioning the stand of net neutrality activists.
Airtel weapon for today? – Anand Chandrasekaran, Chief Product Officer at Airtel – who broke his silence on Twitter over the issue, saying that Airtel Zero was just another choice for consumers and internet companies alike. His stand was more towards Airtel’s (and his) dream to get as many people online as possible.
He mentions that net neutrality activists had only picked up on the worst outcome possible from Airtel Zero – a fragmented internet, but failed to see the platform’s benefits of bringing the Internet to everyone. With only 10% of the all the possible users currently having access to the Internet, he says there’s a need for multiple access methods.
While Chendrasekaran expressed his views on Twitter, the company has also released a detailed statement of what Airtel Zero is, does, and will be. The company still sticks by its definition of Airtel Zero as being a marketing tool to allow internet companies to onboard users, or a tech platform that’ll help people who can’t yet afford to be on the Internet, get online.
Airtel also dismissed any claims of throttling speeds while accessing partner services, and says that the decision still lies in the consumer’s hands. However, the company’s statement still hinges on the pretence that customers will flock to a platform because of its own attributes, and not because it’s free.
Here’s Airtel’s Statement:
1. Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and don’t know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet, they will join the digital revolution.
2.Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.
3. Our platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non-discriminatory basis.
4. 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. Calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else our whole business would be jeopardized.
A toll-free voice service helps the business owners engage with their customers. At the same time it provides the customers the benefit of reaching the business for free. Toll-free voice is not a product or a tariff plan – it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll-free voice to the world of data. As a result, it is for the application developers and their customers to decide how data charges will be paid for.
If an application developer is on the platform, he pays for the data and his customers don’t. If the developer is not on the platform, the customers pay for the data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which website they want to visit – whether it is toll-free or not. If they visit a toll-free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site, normal data charges apply.
5. 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. As a company we do not ever block or provide any differential speeds to any website. We have never done it, and will never do it. We believe our customers are the reason we are in business. As a result, we will always do what is right for our customers.
6. Based on the interest evinced by many small companies, we believe that our platform is especially attractive for them since they will now be able to get their content and applications to their customers at a fraction of the cost of other digital marketing alternatives. Data charges when paid for by companies are almost next to nothing compared to the marketing costs paid by small start-ups to discover apps.
7. There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all, we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet, the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of megabytes, not which site they visited.