Open Internet

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is looking into possible net neutrality violations by telecom operators in the country, reports The Economic Times. An unnamed senior CCI official told the publication that they’re “examining competition concerns that have come up in the light of ongoing debate on net neutrality and telecom companies providing uneven data access to users.” He also mentioned that they will need market evidence to come to a conclusion. The official also added that CCI could intervene if evidence of a dominant player restricting entry of other players in the market surfaces.

Bharti Airtel’s soon to be launched Airtel Zero platform is the latest in the series of net neutrality violating moves made by telecom operators in India. Airtel Zero, for which Flipkart is believed to have already signed up, will allow companies to buy data to offer their apps to consumers for free. Zero Rating violates Net Neutrality, something which TRAI had acknowledged in its consultation paper announced last week as well. Interestingly, TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar has apparently told CNBC Awaaz that Airtel and Flipkart shouldn’t have signed a deal while the consultation on Net Neutrality is still on. (Hat Tip: Anuradha Sengupta).

Here’s a look at some of the other recent Net Neutrality violating moves by telcos and companies in India:

– In November last year, Airtel had launched a sort of gateway to the web called One Touch Internet, which offered a limited set of services as trial packs to consumers. This is similar to Facebook’s, which was launched in India in partnership with Reliance Communications, earlier this year.

– Google is, apparently, also discussing the idea of Zero Rating with some app developers about reduction and possible cost elimination of data.

– In December, Airtel had also introduced differential pricing based on type of Mobile Internet usage, but later retracted it after forcing TRAI’s hand on Net Neutrality consultation.

– Uninor had started offering its subscribers access to Facebook at Rs 0.5 per hour and Re 1 for a day of WhatsApp, last year. It recently started providing access to Wikipedia sans data charges as well. Interestingly, the telco seems to have a different policy in its own country and a different one for India. More here.

It’s not just about differential treatment of web-based services and apps, it’s also about speed throttling. Airtel had allegedly throttled speeds for Pritish Nandy Communications backed video streaming service provider Ogle, though the telco had denied it. However, we need to remember that it isn’t a completely unheard of thing. Last year, Comcast had allegedly throttled speeds for Netflix customers in the US, a clear violation of Net Neutrality, thereby forcing NetFlix to partner with Comcast.

Last month, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had asked the Department of Telecom (DoT) to hold public discussions on net neutrality in India, which is a welcome move. Open discussions are ideal as the stakeholders likely to be most affected by it (the customers) need to know how TRAI plans to tackle the Net Neutrality issue. However, we need to take COAI’s statement with a pinch of salt, given that the telecom industry body has previously defended telecom service providers’ stand against net neutrality.

Also Read:

The Airtel Zero idea: Splitting India’s Internet into many Internets

TRAI’s Internet Licensing and Net Neutrality Consultation Paper: Simpler, Shorter Version

Image Credit: Flickr user Blaise Alleyne