The heated debate on net neutrality has taken quite an unprecedented turn on Wednesday as online travel agent Cleartrip has announced its decision to dissociate itself from Facebook's Internet.org initiative in support of net neutrality.
"We believe that the Internet is a great leveler and that freedom of the Internet is critical for innovation. Cleartrip is and always will be a fully committed supporter of #NetNeutrality," it wrote.
Cleartrip made its stance clear in an extended blog post that explained the reasons behind its decision to join Facebook on the programme.
The company said it had noble reasons when it decided to partner with Facebook on the initiative. "Facebook reached out and asked us 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.
However, the current bout of debate prompted Cleartrip to take a relook at its approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast.
"What started off with providing a simple search service is now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA," the blog post said.
Internet.org has been an ambitious project from the social media giant with a proclaimed intention of providing free Internet access to people living in areas where the required facilities might not be available and to those who can't afford it. While the overarching idea looked ideal for an unequal world, the underlying technicality in the way it operates is against the basic principles of net neutrality, which many failed to notice at the time of its much celebrated lunch.
However, with the arrival of Airtel Zero and the following debates online and offline on the concept of free internet have prompted everyone to take a relook at the way Internet.org functioned.
Facebook had entered into a partnership with Reliance Communications to offer more than 38 websites for free under the Internet.org initiative, and Cleartrip was one of them. According to the deal, the programme offers preferential access to certain services to the customers on Reliance's network in India.
"So 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. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely," the company said.
Cleartrip's decision to pull out of the initiative came just a day after e-com major Flipkart walked away from Airtel Zero, a programme widely criticised for being anti-net neutrality.
(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)