Net neutrality row drives out Cleartrip, others from Internet.org2 min read . Updated: 04 May 2015, 02:01 AM IST
Times Group, NDTV join exodus
New Delhi: The campaign for net neutrality gained momentum on Wednesday with travel portal Cleartrip and media companies Times Group and NDTV logging out of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative even as the social networking site’s chief defended the platform.
At the same time, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (Iamai) alleged that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) was furthering the agenda of telecom operators on this issue.
The regulator has invited public comments on a discussion paper for a policy framework on net neutrality and Internet-based messaging and platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Google Talk that provide voice call features. People familiar with the matter said that Trai has already received 7-8 lakh comments on the discussion paper, floated on March 27.
An intense debate began over net neutrality after some telecom firms, including Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications (R-Com), announced services that are being criticized as going against the concept of maintaining equal Internet access for all.
These platforms claim to allow users to access a variety of mobile and Internet applications for free, but critics allege that these services restrict the free access to a select group of websites and apps and hence sabotage the concept of a free Internet.
Buckling under growing public outrage, e-commerce giant Flipkart on Tuesday decided to “walk away" from the Airtel Zero platform, and was joined by travel portal Cleartrip which pulled out of Facebook’s Internet.org, where R-Com is a partner. Stating that it is “time to draw a line in the sand" Cleartrip took to Twitter to announce that it was “pulling out of Internet.org and standing up for Net neutrality".
Cleartrip chief marketing officer Subramanya Sharma later said: “The recent debate around net neutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast."
Later in the day, Times Group in a statement said it is withdrawing from Internet.org and also appealed to all publishers, including competitors to pull out of such platforms.
A Times Group official said: “We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level-playing field for all companies— big and small—to produce the best service and offer it to consumers."
NDTV co-founder and executive co-chairperson Prannoy Roy tweeted: “NDTV is committed to Net neutrality and is therefore exiting, and will not be a part of, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative."
Earlier on Wednesday, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg rejected criticism that Internet.org was against net neutrality and called it an effort to bring five billion people online.
Iamai, which counts global as well as Indian Internet firms such as Google, Facebook, Snapdeal, Ola and MakeMyTrip as its members, said on Wednesday that “it looks like Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, in its consultation paper, has copy-pasted from submissions of telcos."