The JioPhone which recently opened to pre-bookings has stirred up a hornet’s nest. At a discussion forum organized by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday, rival telcos Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular accused Jio’s 4G feature phone of violating net neutrality principles as it provides limited access to apps. Both telcos claimed that Reliance should let customers decide what apps they wished to download, instead of offering them a “walled garden”.
“It’s locking customer, because he would come to know that he cannot delete or add an application. This should be a free choice for the customer who can use the device wherever he wants to, otherwise it is equivalent to blocking, which is a more serious issue than throttling,” Ravi Gandhi, head of regulatory affairs at Bharti Airtel, reportedly said at the forum. Incidentally, Airtel too is said to be working on a low-cost Android smartphone in a bid to compete with the JioPhone. However, because it is Android-based, Airtel wouldn’t be limiting access to apps. ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone effect: Airtel reportedly working on Rs 2,500 smartphone
The JioPhone is essentially a feature phone that will offer Jio’s own bouquet of apps — JioMusic, JioTV, JioCinema — along with a few social media apps like YouTube and Facebook. The phone will come pre-loaded with these apps as it cannot house Google Play Store. The industry reckons that such closed, bundled offerings are a risky proposition and deprive users access to the entire internet universe. “In a way you’re not giving the customer the choice, or you are in some sense influencing his choice to have a device which is restricting,” TRAI chairman RS Sharma said. Sources in Reliance Jio told BGR India that the “question of net neutrality does not arise since there is unrestricted access to the internet on the JioPhone.” ALSO READ: Reliance JioPhone is on a quest to dominate the rural telecom market in India
Debates on net neutrality have prevailed since Facebook’s controversial internet.org (later rebranded as Free Basics) program debuted in India in 2015. While Mark Zuckerberg sought to provide basic internet access to India’s billion-plus citizens, activists cried foul over the social networking giant’s intentions. They claimed that Facebook was offering a watered down version of the internet and leaving out a majority of apps, sites, and services in order to further its own vested interests. Much battle later, the Silicon Valley giant pulled the plug on the project.
Now, over to JioPhone to ward off allegations of net neutrality violation.