ITEM: Reliance Jio’s decision to follow up its free data gimmick with a free 4G feature phone has raised questions about whether the phone is a violation of net neutrality.
The so-called JioPhone is a low-cost feature phone that Jio will offer for a refundable deposit of 1,500 rupees (a little over $23), with the basic objectively of enabling more people to use its 4G network. The phone will also come pre-loaded with Jio-owned apps, which reportedly caused at least two analysts to suggest that the phone would contravene India’s net neutrality rules, according to ET Tech:
According to Kotak, any set of pre-installed apps on a device – whether they are Jio’s or not – that prevents consumers from installing competing apps “flirts with the boundaries of net neutrality.”
Deutsche Bank raised similar concerns on the grounds that apps on JioPhone are from its own store, which has apps spanning social, content and payments verticals.
For reference, in India “net neutrality” has been defined by independent regulator Trai as allowing access to the full open internet with non-discriminatory pricing. This definition was the primary roadblock for Facebook’s “Free Basics” app, which offered zero-rated access to select websites and online services – it eventually withdrew the service from India after Trai ruled that the app violated net neutrality.
Just why financial analysts seem to think the JioPhone will run into similar problems is unclear – bundling pre-installed apps on phones is a fairly standard practice.
Nikhil Pahwa, a net neutrality activist and co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, has commented that in terms of pre-installed apps, the JioPhone would only run into trouble with Trai over net neutrality if Jio doesn’t allow users to download non-Jio apps or access the open internet, or if it applies zero-rating to its own apps but not to others.
Until the JioPhone actually hits the market, all of this is speculation, of course. If nothing else, Jio’s competitors seem keen to use net neutrality as a bludgeon to beat Jio with. According to ET Telecom, Idea Cellular raised the net neutrality issue in an analyst call over the weekend – whilst also admitting it was preparing its own low-cost 4G phone to compete against the JioPhone.