Tech startups and small app developers have slammed BhaRTI move to allow mobile phone users free access to certain websites, saying the step, and similar ones by other telcos, would hurt them as they don’t have the financial muscle to pay to get preferential access to a carrier’s users.
“Airtel’s new marketing platform basically implies that telecom operators will control which technology comes up and which doesn’t. This is extremely unhealthy,” says Sunal Jain, founder and chief executive of MOBINEXt Studios, a Chicago and New Delhi-based one-year-old app developer.Airtel has announced an open marketing platform, which it says will allow its customers to access ‘certain’ mobile applications for free, with no data charges.
Critics say the move is aimed at creating two types of internet — free and paid — and goes against the principle of net neutrality, which envisages that service providers will treat all data on the internet equally. In this case, Airtel offers preferential access to customers for some apps free of charge and not to all apps. In effect, the app maker will pay for the customer’s free usage to the operator, while those who can’t afford to pay won’t get preferential access. Airtel has said its latest offer isn’t biased for or against anyone.
“This certainly puts many of the application providers on the backseat on internet accessing, hence making us app developers lose our prospective business,” said Kanika Verma, who heads the business development for a year-old Ireland-based mobile and web applications company, Innovision Technologies.
Airtel’s announcement comes when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has initiated a consultation paper on over the top (OTT) players, or app makers. All stakeholders have to submit their responses by April end. At present, there are no laws on the subject in the country. However, the government has announced that it supports net neutrality.
A spokesperson for the Internet & Mobile Association of India said the move by Airtel and other telcos violates net neutrality and all apps should be made accessible to users on a non-discriminatory basis.