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Net Neutrality Debate In India: Google Blinks First

May 29, 2015 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

Google is reportedly scrapping its plans to provide free data to users by introducing zero-rating platforms in India out of fear of public backlash. With the launch of Android One handsets last year, there were reports which suggested that Google was looking to tie-up with carriers in India with a view to creating a platform whereby, the carriers could implement zero-rating plans for consumers. However, with the huge backlash that ensued against online social network Facebook, telecom operator Airtel, and online retailer Flipkart, Google has reportedly backed down – at least for the time being – and adopt a wait and watch approach before taking a final call on its future course of action. The California-based company was reportedly negotiating with telecommunication service providers in India to introduce its own zero-rating platform, on the lines of Facebook’s internet.org. But now, with the platform receiving a hostile reception over fears of such initiatives being in gross violation of net-neutrality norms, Google has reportedly decided that discretion is the better part of valor and according to sources familiar with the matter, has decided to temporarily scrap any such plans.

Zero-rating refers to the phenomenon of letting users access certain applications free of data charges if and when the makers of such apps strike monetary deals with telecom operators. The issue has been hotly debated in India over the past few months, and not without reason. Netizens and net-neutrality advocacy groups are up-in-arms over what they believe to be an abuse of net-neutrality in the garb of providing free internet to the poor. The argument does hold water when you see how this could easily help developers with big pockets and disadvantage their smaller competitors and startups with not much money to spend on paying-off big telecom. The proponents of zero-rating plans argue that such initiatives will help bring first time users online, but most are far from being convinced.

In the face of severe backlash, and afraid of losing public support, Flipkart and many other internet companies have withdrawn from negotiations to be part of the “Airtel Zero” initiative, while many companies also withdrew from Facebook’s Internet.org – a platform which was launched by Mark Zuckerberg last year, in partnership with telecom operator Reliance Communications in India. There have also been reports which indicate that the Indian Federal Government is looking to legislate as illegal zero-rating plans, but such reports remain unconfirmed.