(by Nikhil Pahwa and Diwaskar Chettri)

CDMA telecom operator MTS has announced the launch of its prepaid wireless internet service MBlaze in Jharkhand. While the base charge for access is Rs. 2 per mb, something else caught our attention: MTS will allow MBlaze users free Internet browsing of certain websites – Yahoo India, Wikipedia, Makemytrip, shopping.indiatimes.com and Cricinfo.com.

Additionally, according to MTS’ Free Policy: “email will be free for Indian yahoo email addresses e.g. myname@yahoo.in, and myname@yahoo.com email addresses.” and “Email attachment downloads will be free from the given free websites”

Indeed, this is becoming something of a trend: last month, Tata Docomo offered free GRPS for accessing Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn and Nimbuzz to its BuddyNet users.

This is excellent for promoting wireless Internet in India, but look at it from another perspective: As an access service provider, MTS and Tata Docomo are not being neutral towards the websites they’re providing access to. Preferential treatment is being provided to, say, Cricinfo over CricketNext or Cricbuzz, Facebook over a BigAdda, IndyaRocks and Bharatstudent, MakeMyTrip over Cleartrip and Yatra, Indiatimes Shopping over Indiaplaza, Rediff Shopping or Sify Shopping. Downloading attachments from Yahoo Mail is cheaper than from, say, Rediff Mail or GMail.

Even if not very significant, a consumer is being given an incentive to use one site over the other, by making access to one free, and the other paid.

Questions need to be asked of the access service providers: why these specific websites, and why not others? Are there contractual agreements in place, and are MTS and Tata Docomo being compensated by them? We’ll update in case MTS responds.

From a pureplay net-neutrality perspective, MTS and Docomo are probably not at fault unless they’re providing access at differing speeds. Google’s YouTube came under the scanner recently when Airtel upgraded access speed to YouTube’s IPL sreaming to 2mbps speed for all subscribers.

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