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Telecom major Airtel today said it fully supports the concept of net-neutrality and its ‘Airtel Zero’ platform is open to all on non-discriminatory basis.

The comments follow e-commerce major Flipkart’s decision to “walk away” from its proposed tie-up with Airtel that has been at the centre of a raging debate over a need to maintain equal Internet access for all.

“Airtel fully supports the concept of Net Neutrality. There have been some misconceptions about our toll free data platform Airtel Zero. It is a not a tariff proposition but is an open marketing platform,” Airtel said in a statement.

Net neutrality implies equal treatment to all Internet traffic and any priority given to an application or company on payment basis is seen as violating the concept.

Airtel launched Airtel Zero platform last week that allows customers to access certain mobile applications for free with charges being borne by app makers.

“The toll free platform is open to all content providers on a completely non-discriminatory basis and operates on the same principle as 1-800 toll free voice services,” it said.

No site whether on the toll free platform or not under any circumstances is blocked, throttled or provided any form of preferential access, Airtel added.

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal, who earlier defended ‘Airtel Zero’ and had criticised the opposition to it in the name of ‘net neutrality’, today walked out of its tie-up with for this platform saying that “we have always unequivocally supported net neutrality and will continue to do so”.

He had earlier tweeted in defence of Airtel Zero: “When foreign companies do it in India – Innovation. Indians do it – Violation. #NetNeutralityDiscrimination?”

This resulted in Flipkart drawing a lot of flak online with many users even deleting the app from their phones to show support for Net neutrality.

Airtel said the statement made by Flipkart regarding their decision not to offer toll free data service to their customers is consistent with the telecom firm stand that Airtel Zero is not a tariff proposition.

“It is merely an open platform for content providers to provide toll free data services. The platform remains open to all companies who want to offer these toll free data services to their customers on a completely non discriminatory basis,” Airtel said.

Airtel Zero, as also similar services — internet.Org, launched by Reliance Communications and Facebook, among others, have come under attack with critics terming them as attempts to restrict ‘free’ Internet access to select platforms and against the ‘net neutrality’ regime.

A government-appointed panel is looking into these concerns and is likely to submit its report next month, while the matter is being separately studied by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Free Internet advocates and start-ups see the move as a violation of net neutrality and one that could even “lead to monopolisation by a few and squeezing out of small companies”.

Facebook has defended its project internet.Org saying that it is pro-Internet access and hence does not violate net-neutrality principle.

Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal last month said that the project was self-serving for Facebook.

The net-neutrality debate in India picked up after Airtel in December decided to charge separately for Internet-based calls on standard rate of 10 paise per 10 kb on 2G network and 4 paise per 10 kb on 3G network.

Based on standard rates, usage of each GB of data for VoIP on 3G network will cost about Rs 4,000 and while the same on 2G network will cost about Rs 10,000.

Under schemes, Airtel sells 1GB of 3G data for Rs 249 and 1GB of 2G Internet for Rs 175.

The company rolled back its plan following huge public outrage at social media.

However, Mittal in February clarified that the company’s decision only brought price of voice calls made using Internet at par with normal phone call rates.

IMPORT:-FirstPost