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Airtel Zero Initiative: The Unfortunate World It Can Possibly Create!

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Today Airtel subscribers have received a mail from Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO, Bharti Airtel Ltd., justifying Airtel’s views on Airtel Zero initiative. In the email, Gopal has mentioned number of times that Airtel Zero is not against “Net Neutrality”.  Fine! I think let’s not debate on what “Net Neutrality” means to Telcos and everyone else. There are already enough discussions happening in this regard.

In the same mail, Gopal is defending Airtel Zero initiative by giving some weird logic. I think we need to discuss that in our community, that’s why I thought of writing this blog post to initiate this discussion.

The mail says “There is no difference between Airtel Zero and toll free voice such as 1-800”.  Instead of taking the user’s money, they are taking money from the business. According to Airtel, this initiative will give internet access to millions of deprived ones. The intentions are all great! But, this analogy looks really scary to me! Unlike Toll-Free on Internet, I just do not go to one website and end the transaction. Let’s just speculate how the world will look like 2-3 years down the line, if we move forward in this direction. What society are we creating by moving in this direction?

Let’s assume that all the good intentions will be met. Let’s say, we are able to give internet access to additional 100-150 M in India. Overall internet access will increased. That’s great! But out of say, 400-500 M users on internet, 80% of them will be on some organisation’s Zero plan with access to few hundred websites, only rest 20% (in the best case) will have access to 1 Billion+ websites, that we call internet. Here is how will it impact various segments of people:

1. As an entrepreneur, my reach will reduce further. I will not think of the “Poor”. I will only think of the rich people who can have access to your service on Internet. Do we want that to happen?

2. As a user of Some Organisation’s Zero plan, you will be able to go to Facebook & Google and likes but you will not be able to click on the links posted on these platforms as those publishers do not need the money to be in some organisation’s Zero plan. Do we want that to happen?

3. As a successful business, who is part of Some Organisation’s Zero plan, every year your bottom line will be impacted by how the telcos are negotiating the deal with your company. Do we want that to happen?

I do not think anyone of us would want that kind of society. Do share your  views on this.

For your reference, here is the link to the email that the subscribers are receiving from Airtel.

PS: These are my personal views on this topic.

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