India Remains Flashpoint for Zero Rating

India remains one of the hotspots where it comes to policies on zero rating. Aside from governmental action that could happen, the Internet and Mobile Association of India also is considering what public stand to take on policies that encourage sampling of Internet apps by allowing access without the requirement to buy a mobile Internet access subscription, for an introductory period.

The Indian Department of Telecom is preparing regulations on network neutrality, and some believe zero rating should be banned as part of network neutrality rules, on the grounds that zero rating does not “treat all bits, or all applications, alike.”

Both Facebook and Google believe such promotional efforts have a direct and substantial impact on mobile Internet access adoption in markets across South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Google has done zero rated deals in India, notably with Airtel (the proponent of zero rated Airtel Zero service), as well for Free Zone (free Gmail, Google Search, Google+).

Google also has offered 200 MB free data for use of Google Play apps, and no data charges for over-the-air updates on Android One handsets.

Google reportedly was planning to roll out its own Zero Rated service in India, but put plans on hold after the net neutrality protests, especially those against Airtel Zero.

Both firms appear to believe that such promotional policies are helpful tools to boost Internet access across the region--Facebook perhaps more visibly than Google--and both also have joined the Cellular Operators Association of India.

As always, valid public policy concerns and perceived private financial interests both are in play. Google and Facebook have good reasons for believing they benefit disproportionately as hundreds of millions of new Internet users are added.

Smaller app providers might have their own vested interests in seeing that Google and Facebook do not gain access to that many new potential users. For few application providers is the direct link between “number of Internet users” and “our revenues” so clear.

In that sense, there is alignment between the interests of mobile service providers and ISPs and Google and Facebook. All gain directly from each incremental user or subscriber.

That is not so true for thousands of smaller app providers, who might well believe they are better off essentially slowing Facebook and Google influence.
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