Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd (SSTL) is the first Indian operator to oppose the practice of zero-rating, describing it as counter to net neutrality and causing confusion among customers.

“Sistema Shyam Teleservices is committed to net neutrality and strongly opposed to zero rating plans,” a senior executive, who wished to remain anonymous, told Economic Times.

A controversy has been raging for months in India over zero-rating, which enables users to access some apps without paying data charges. Operators have been forced to defend such initiatives, claiming they are offered in a non-discriminatory manner. But opponents claim they violate net neutrality.

Two of the most prominent such schemes are Bharti Airtel’s Airtel Zero and Reliance Communications’, both of which have faced criticism from the country’s Department of Telecom (DoT).

Pureplay CDMA operator Sistema Shyam, which operates in nine markets under the MTS brand, said its shops and call centres have been bombarded with enquiries since the controversy first broke.

The queries cover three main topics: Would existing data plans become zero-rating plans allowing easy access to only a restricted number of sites? Would users retain a free choice to access any legally valid website or would they be forced to access only some websites and apps on a preferential basis and pay a sizeable premium for others? Finally, would existing data plans allow access to all websites without any throttling?

The operator appears to have turned such confusion to its own advantage with the launch next week of a new tariff. “OpenWeb tariffs are anti-zero rating plans designed to provide absolute freedom to surf, call and chat freely and fairly”, according to its marketing.

One company executive said the operator has been training its sales staff about the new tariff guaranteeing equal access to all websites and apps, which he said is a “pre-emptive move to avoid potential business disruptions induced by the prevailing confusion over the implications of net neutrality on data consumption.” More than half of its revenue stems from data services.