Is JioPhone violating net neutrality principles?

Audio player loading…

Net Neutrality is one of the core tenets of a free and fair internet. Over the last few years, it has come under scrutiny during several incidents in different countries all over the world. In India, the one major event that attracted a lot of debate and activism was Facebook’s Free Basics offering. Another incident that has the possibility of drawing attention is Reliance Jio’s JioPhone (opens in new tab)

Idea’s Managing Director, Himanshu Kapania, said during an analyst call, “One of the concerns is about net neutrality. It will not allow most of the apps which a customer prefers and the choice of apps may not work because it is forcing consumers to use an individual operator’s apps,” 

Violations of net neutrality are taken seriously by India’s telecom regulator, TRAI. In this incident, it does seem like JioPhone could be violating Net Neutrality by not allowing installation of third-party apps. 

To recap, the JioPhone comes with KaiOS, a forked version of Firefox OS. During the JioPhone announcement, Reliance Jio had revealed that it would be creating its own app store. Light versions of popular apps like Facebook, YouTube and more were said to be made available in this app store. Reliance Jio also mentioned that its apps like Jio Cinema, Jio TV, and other Jio apps would be pre-installed on the JioPhone, allowing you to stream movies and shows on the phone. 

Idea’s contention here is that the JioPhone won’t let you install other third-party apps that compete with Jio’s apps. This is little complicated, given the fact that the JioPhone comes with KaiOS. The phone’s hardware is very basic as well, meaning that it won’t be able to run regular apps properly. 

If third-party developers optimize their apps to run on the JioPhone, then it comes down to Reliance Jio approving them. Idea’s argument will hold water if Reliance Jio does not support apps that compete with other Jio apps. TRAI, the Indian telecom regulator, has been a supporter of Net Neutrality in the past. It could then find Reliance Jio to be in violation of Net Neutrality. 

The Free Basics Controversy 

This could become a big issue for Reliance Jio despite the JioPhone being a “zero cost” device. Facebook’s Free Basics was also a zero-cost service, but it did not go down well with the Indian public. The Net Neutrality violations coupled with its aggressive marketing resulted in a massive blowback against Facebook, generating debates across the country about the importance of Net Neutrality. 

If the JioPhone does not allow competing apps on the JioPhone, it could similarly snowball into another Net Neutrality debate in the country. Given TRAI’s pro-Net Neutrality stance, Reliance Jio will have to tread carefully in this regard. 

Idea’s JioPhone competitor 

Idea’s Himanshu Kapania also revealed that the telco is planning to launch a JioPhone competitor (opens in new tab) soon. 

“We are looking at how much features can be brought down, how much bill of material can be brought down (to reduce prices) and test consumer response in each of these.” 

Kapania also criticized the JioPhone for running a new operating system and a small display. It would seem like Idea is preparing to launch a JioPhone competitor with Android and a bigger 4-inch screen.