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Sunil Mittal calls it right: what Zuck is doing with Internet.org isn’t philanthropy


Taking on Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitious Internet.org, Bharti Airtel chief Sunil Mittal said that the service will only serve Facebook at an event in the Mobile World Congress, reports the Press Trust of India. “He (Zuckerberg) is saying that make Internet.org lite version of Facebook free of data charge, so that people will upgrade. People will come to internet for the first time. The point is that it is self-serving for them,” Mittal said.

“I told him (Zuckerberg) that you are right that this (internet.org) expands the market. At the end, you must understand that we (telecom operators) need to charge you for something. SMSes have gone more or less, voice is going down and they (Facebook) recognise that,” Mittal said in a media interaction. “If you are going to make the data free, then let’s do completely philanthropic projects. Government must make spectrum free, there should be free network, but it is not happening,” the billionaire industrialist said, while adding that telecom companies were as such not making large money,” he added.

Internet.org is looking to bring the next billion people onto the Internet, however telecom operators say that  Internet services do not invest in the costly infrastructure required so that people can access applications on their smartphones. In India,  operators are also lobbying hard for Internet services to be regulated and are also looking for a revenue sharing model. Under Internet.org only certain services which Facebook deems essential will be free and not attract any data charges with its tie-ups with operators. In India, Facebook has tied-up with Reliance Communications to provide Internet.org. More on that here.

In emerging markets such as India, where customers are very cost conscious, giving access to these sites, Facebook and Reliance Communications are ensuring that consumption for some portals become free, and some remain paid. This puts RCOM and Facebook in a situation where they are king-makers in particular, and can effectively extract a payment for ensuring that some sites dominate others.

Note that Airtel in Africa has signed up with Internet.org to provide some Internet services for free and it is interesting to note that  Airtel Africa chief Christian De Faria seems to be warming up to the idea, as indicated by this New York Times report.  ‘‘One year ago, if you had asked me about Facebook, I would have said it was like beauty and the beast,’’  De Faria said, adding that his carrier had seen an increase in paid data traffic since joining Internet.org. ‘‘But I can say that the beast has become more human.’’

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Remember that last December, Airtel withdrew the launch of separate data packs for VoIP services following consumer outrage, and effectively forced  TRAI to issue a statement that it will draw a consultation paper on issues relating to “services offered by OTT (Internet services) players including VoIP.

We stress again on the three principles of Net Neutrality

Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.

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