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A Zero-rating Controversy Explained


A Zero-rating Controversy Explained

Cheenu Seshadri shares an older post that explains the term zero-rating and why it was adopted.

I have been watching the launch of Airtel Zero and the visceral reaction of a million netizens in India with curiosity. With 240M+ internet users and ubiquitous use of social media, I guess it is not hard to whip up a million citizens into frenzy!

Having led strategy for a zero-rating pioneer and having the unfortunate experience of dealing with the alarming side-effects of an activist regulatory regime, I believe this reaction is misplaced and any supportive actions by the telecom regulators will only serve to keep the digital divide in India up for longer.

The term zero-rating was yet to be coined, when in late 2009, we at MTS launched our high-speed data product in India. As an upstart trying to disrupt the telecom landscape, we introduced numerous innovations to the market – data on prepaid for the 1st time in India, zero-balance recharge, unlimited data and differential charging (launched with an offer of 5 free websites and later allowed customers to customize their choice of 5 sites). The last innovation is in essence zero-rating! We were among the first in the world to work with websites and vendors to figure out the technology to make this happen. Figuring out how to have content on websites not count towards your data allocation was one thing, but we went further to make sure the ads on these sites did not either.

Why did we do this? We believed trialing was an important step towards growing the internet population in India and allowing subscribers to surf their favorite sites for free was our way of making this happen. While we did not strike revenue arrangements with these websites and chose to give away this data for free, we believed this was a way for us to differentiate ourselves in the market.


Key points include:

  • The digital divide in India
  • Net neutrality
  • Global benchmarks


Read the full article, Zero-rating controversy in India – a storm in a teacup, on LinkedIn.