The founders of over 500 start-ups and several investors are writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, supporting Net neutrality and opposing the differential-pricing regime for data as the battle for the Internet, and the controversy over Facebook’s Free Basics, enters its final stages.
The letter, which calls for Modi’s support on the Net-neutrality issue, comes days ahead of the release of the telecom regulator’s final recommendations on differential pricing.
The letter will be sent to the prime minister on Tuesday by the Save The Internet coalition, a group of Net-neutrality activists.
Last week during an open-house discussion on the consultation paper on differential pricing, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said it would issue its final verdict on the issue by the end of this month.
The letter, put together by Save The Internet, already has 1,163 signatories, including 570 start-up founders. The entrepreneurs calling for the prime minister’s support include Sairee Chahal, founder of Sheroes.in; Paras Chopra, founder and chief executive of Wingify Software; Manish Vij, founder of Smile Vun Group; Ashish Kashyap of the Ibibo Group; Hrush Bhatt, cofounder of Cleartrip; Archit Gupta, chief executive and cofounder of Cleartax; Abhinav Lal, co-founder of Practo Technologies; Vijay Shekhar Sharma, cofounder of One97 Communications, which owns Paytm; and Deepinder Goyal, cofounder of Zomato.
Investors who have signed the letter include Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm and cofounder of Seedfund; Brij Bhasin of Rebright Partners; Navin Honagudi of Kae Capital; Sanjay Swamy of Prime Venture Partners; Abhishek Gupta of TLabs, a start-up accelerator by Times Internet Ltd.; Sharad Sharma, founder of Bengaluru-based think tank iSPIRT Foundation; and Vishal Gupta of Bessemer Venture Partners.
Net neutrality is based on the concept that the Internet should remain an open platform, with network-service providers treating all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. This means they should not favor specific apps or services, either through pricing or quality of service.
“The Internet is not a marketplace where government-licensed access providers are allowed to act as gatekeepers, choosing what the citizens of our nation can access and on what terms,” the letter said.
The activists, in the letter, argued that differential pricing for data services, which telecom firms have been championing, would have a detrimental impact on India’s burgeoning start-up ecosystem. “The most detrimental impact of a differential pricing regime would be on our citizens, who will not get access to the best solutions that the country’s entrepreneurs will devise for them,” the letter said. “Moreover, it will have a domino effect on the performance of our nation’s start-up ecosystem and therefore on our potential for economic growth.”
“Start-ups are the heart of our country’s innovation. They are the ones who are going to solve the problems of tomorrow and make Digital India a success,” said Mitesh Ashar, volunteer at Save The Internet and a cofounder of the HeadStart Network Foundation. “Differential pricing, which includes zero rating, will give disproportionate power to platforms and access service providers by giving them the ability to favour some services over others, hence, friction for start-ups.”
The letter noted that Net neutrality and the provision of Internet access to those who cannot afford to pay for it can and must coexist.
Telecom firms have emphasized that differential tariffs for data will help grow the telecom industry and increase Internet penetration in the country, benefiting consumers in the long run.
Firms, such as Telenor ASA, Bharti Airtel Ltd., Idea Cellular Ltd. and Reliance Communications, have argued that the country has the prerequisite legal framework for regulating and monitoring differential pricing measures provided by the service providers and that Trai can deal with any issue regarding anticompetitive practices on a case-by-case basis as and when they arise.
“Differential pricing concept is well accepted in all other industries. If Trai doesn’t allow differential tariff for data, it would be unfair to the telecom industry and detrimental to country’s economic growth,” said Hemant Joshi, technology, media and telecom leader at Deloitte India.