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Friday, April 17, 2015

Indian Companies Pull Out of Facebook’s Amid Battle Over Net Neutrality

A battle over net neutrality is brewing in India, where fewer than one in six is connected to the Internet. 
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A viral crusade to keep the Internet equally accessible to all users has won the backing of some of the country’s biggest online companies, which late Wednesday pulled out of a partnership with Facebook’s over fears it could allow telecom operators to choose which web applications users can access and how fast.
After a week of aggressive lobbying by campaigners for net neutrality – the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally — three Indian websites pulled out of, which provides free access to certain web services for those on a particular plan.
Travel website, news channel NDTV and mobile app Newshunt, pulled content from, which Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg brought to India in February in a tie up with Reliance Communications.
The Times Group, owner of the Times of India, also pulled TimesJobs and Maharashtra Times from the platform and said it would withdraw Times of India content only if its direct competitors agreed to do so. attempts to aid emerging economies by making Web access more affordable, use data more efficiently and help business drive access to more users.
“What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” Cleartrip said Wednesday.

In an opinion piece published in two Indian newspapers Thursday in response to the withdrawals, Mr. Zuckerberg said “to give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some services for free.”
The principles of net neutrality and universal connectivity “can and must coexist,” Zuckerberg added. does not “block or throttle any other services, or create fast lanes,” he wrote, adding that Facebook supports net neutrality. “We want to keep the Internet open.”
The moves came after e-commerce giant Flipkart announced that it was “walking away from the ongoing discussion with Airtel” for Airtel Zero, a platform that offers customers Internet services for free and charges companies a fee to be on it.

Airtel launched the platform last week, describing it as a non-discriminatory marketing tool for app developers in India. In a statement Wednesday, Airtel said it “fully supports the concept of Net Neutrality.”
Fewer than one in six Indians is connected to the Internet, but Indian cyberspace has been filled with arguments in favor of keeping access to it equal since the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued a consultation paper late last month on possible changes to the existing Internet regulatory framework.
The paper titled “Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services,” is seeking public opinion until Apr. 24, on whether telecom companies in India, like Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance, should be allowed to charge consumers differently for using different websites and mobile applications. (Read the paper in full here and a condensed version here.)
One of the arguments by telecom companies for being able to do so is that new data-intensive applications, or so-called Over-the-top services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype and Viber, require more and better infrastructure but don’t pay for it.
Telecom operators providing Internet services argue they are spending money developing infrastructure, on which those services are piggybacking. Opponents say differential pricing undermines net neutrality, a principle some countries, including the U.S., endorse. India’s e-governance division’s explanation of net neutrality is here.

The campaign to protect equal access to the Internet has picked up speed in recent days in India. On the site, a petition aimed at gaining public support for net neutrality has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.
The website, which went live April 11, has seen more than half a million responses sent by its users to TRAI so far.
A short video explaining and campaigning for net neutrality by comedy collective “All India Bakchod” (“Bakchod” is a Hindi word that loosely translates as “trash talker.”), has more than two million views only five days after it was published on YouTube. The video was so widely shared that it temporarily crashed on Facebook- or in web parlance; it “broke Facebook.”
India’s federal Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, tweeted this on the issue earlier this month.

In another tweet, he said that the government had set up an independent committee to look into the debate.

TRAI is set to end its consultation process on May 8.
For breaking news, features and analysis from India, click here and follow WSJ India on Facebook.

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