MD & CEO
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia
Dear Mr Vittal:
I am in receipt of your email that arrived in my inbox yesterday morning. That one where you make out that the Airtel Zero plan is nothing but great for consumers, aimed at reaching the internet free of cost for the vast majority of the people who can’t afford the rates.
I have 3 immediate reactions. Let me go through the gut feel responses first.
1. You need to change your PR agency.
So long after the battle of net-neutrality started in India, so much was said both pro and for the positions, this is the best you can come up with? And, drag Mr Modi’s name into it? If your idea has merit, it should stand on its own legs, should it not?
So, now after Airtel Zero, we will have Vodafone Zero, Idea Zero and so on? Each offering a carved up portion of the internet for free. How absurd is that? And, you want us to believe it is best for consumers that it is that way? We already get a taste of that in our DTH services- with family plan, family + sports, South India plan etc. And believe me, it costs me more and the service is not great.
2. This is a cosy club of folks who have already made it. And to hell with innovation.
Internet is democratic and a level playing field- and it is more than a fact, it is an article of faith. This lack of entry barrier has given rise to once unknowns like Facebook and Google commanding huge valuations.
Imagine if in the early days of Google, Yahoo had subsidised access to it, would people have gone to a “paid search” like Google? Or, if MySpace or Orkut had done a similar thing to Facebook when no one outside of the few college campuses had heard of Facebook? Imagine Google with its huge stockpile of cash subsidising access to Orkut in the early days of Facebook. There would be no Facebook today.
At a personal level, Mr Vittal, I am scared that we could have Microsoft or Oracle or Salesforce or SAP carve up the CRM software space by colluding with the Telecom operators. And, that would really be tragic, would it not be? Because, who would innovate then? Who would keep the biggies on their toes?
3. It does not benefit consumers, Mr Vittal.
You are telling us that some access, even to a walled garden, created through this walled garden internet of yours, is preferable to having no access at all. Surely, even you can see that is not true. This is not what will create competition, it will lead to cartels. How does that benefit consumers?
And, if your plan and that pushed by Facebook in collaboration with one of your competitors goes through, how soon will it take for the governments to get the idea of creating their own walled garden? Or even political parties?
Please do not do this, Mr Vittal.
PS: Here’s what you wrote to us:
|Dear CustomerOver the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality. Let me clarify.
- Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and do not 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There is no difference between this and toll free voice such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrols 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. Toll free voice helps the business owner engage with their customer. At the same time it provides the customer 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 developer and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for. If the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for 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 web site 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.
- Finally every web site, 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, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business. As a result we will always do what is right for our customers.
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 mega bytes not which site they visited.
In sum our platform is a technology platform and is open to all application developers and their customers. Our platform only provides a choice of how the data that is consumed is paid for by any of the two – the application provider or their customer. Whether any application provider enrolls on the platform or not is entirely their choice. All we have is a technology. We do not have a product or tariff plan that we have launched. We simply have a platform. And every application developer and their customer is free to choose in an entirely neutral way what they want to do.
In conclusion, we stand fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister`s vision of digital India are met.
MD & CEO
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia