The Times group said, “The Times of India and its language websites appeal to all publishers to jointly withdraw from Internet.org.
“In the case of the group’s properties such as TimesJobs and Maharashtra Times, where its competitors are not on zero-rate platforms, these will pull out of Internet.org. As for The Times of India, the group commits to withdraw from Internet.org if its direct competitors — India Today, NDTV, IBNLive, NewsHunt, and BBC — also pull out.”
NDTV said, "We are committed to net neutrality. So, we will not be a part of Internet.org."
Cleartrip said, “While our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org.”
ALSO READ: Flipkart pulls out of Airtel Zero, bats for net neutrality
Internet.org, with Reliance Communications as a partner, was unveiled by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in India in February, after being launched in developing countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, and Colombia. Consumers on the platform can access more than 30 websites on news, job listings, health care, and entertainment, among others, for free. They can also access Facebook for free.
Reliance Communications did not comment till the time of going to press. Calls to TV Today Network went unanswered.
Those in favour of net neutrality say internet service providers should only run the networks and have no say over how and what content flows to consumers, as long as it is legal.
But some argue that a tiered internet — where those prepared to pay can go in a fast lane — is inevitable in today's data-hungry world.
The Internet.org development comes a day after e-commerce site Flipkart had pulled out of the Airtel Zero platform amid social media outrage.
Zuckerberg rejected criticism the Internet.org, which is aimed at bringing five billion people under the world wide web’s fold, was against net neutrality.
“For people not on the Internet.org, having some connectivity is much better than having none. That's why Internet.org is important and can co-exist with net neutrality,” Zuckerberg said.
He added that net neutrality was important to “make sure network operators don’t discriminate and limit access to services people want to use, especially in countries where most people are online”.
A few weeks back, Facebook reached out and asked Cleartrip to participate in the Internet.org initiative with the intention of helping us deliver one of our most affordable products to the more underserved parts of the country. “There was no revenue arrangement between us and Internet.org or any of its participants — we were neither paid anything, nor did we pay anything to participate. Additionally we don’t make any money out of that product. Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to a social cause,” it said.
But the recent debate around #NetNeutrality “gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org” and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast, it added. “What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” it further added.
The websites which are a part of Internet.org includes some of the leading Indian news broadcast and publishing organisations such as Aaj Tak, Amar Ujala, BBC News, Daily Bhaskar, IBN7, India Today, Manorama News, NDTV, Reuters, Times of India and news application NewsHunt, which hosts contents from dozens of other publications. Many of these organisations have joined the campaign to support net neutrality.
In the initial phase, Internet.org it was made available to six circles – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Telangana –while rest was expected to be launched in the next 90 days.
Comments from Reliance are awaited. Emails to Times Internet Limited and calls to TV Today network went unanswered at the time of going to press.
Internet and mobile association of India (IAMAI) also said on Wednesday that the industry needs less regulation as it could cripple tech entrepreneurship and application development, which has recently started to flourish in India.
“Low barriers to entry will allow entrepreneurs and start-ups to design and market innovative products and services, which will benefit the Indian consumers. Moreover, any regulatory registration or licensing is likely to increase costs and limit the ability of such entrepreneurs to devise innovative products and business models. Internet should be free and subscribers should have the right to access content without barriers to connectivity being imposed by the carriers of the data, such as the creation of Internet fast lanes. As such, TRAI should recognize this and undertake to safeguard it by limiting any regulatory interference,” IAMAI said in a statement.
Inputs by Mansi Taneja in New Delhi