Thanks for creating this thread.
While trying to understand the Indian issue, one important fact to keep in mind is that there was a spectrum auction in India in which the Telecoms had to pay US$6.1 billion to the Government for monopoly over 3G/4G/wireless spectrum. Also, the licensing conditions didn't have conditions about Net Neutrality. Neither are there any laws about the same.
The main argument that Telecoms raise when it comes to Net Neutrality is that they cannot protect Net Neutrality and continue investing in expanding Internet acess to all parts of the country without going bankrupt. (While many think this is a lie and that they're just looking for more profit, ) the government is sympathetic towards and partially responsible for this argument.
Now, when we look at zero-rating, we've to differentiate between all the different zero-ratings that are possible. Also, we have to think of who can avail this zero-rating - just those who can't afford Internet or everyone.
There's zero-rating sponsored by entities like Facebook (Internet.org) and Airtel (Airtel Zero). These platforms are gatekeeper-ed. And they are available for everyone - rich or poor. (In fact, one of the advertisements of Facebook's partner Reliance showed some rich kids using the free sites available and having fun.)
Then there's zero-rating by not counting against data cap of certain websites by the Telecoms themselves to attract customers. This is where Wikipedia zero comes in. Some telecoms have provided WhatsApp free like this. Some twitter (during last cricket world cup). Saavn.com, a music streaming website was also provided on such a service. This is targetted at people who are already using the Internet.
Wikipedia is a special situation. 1) Wikipedia is free, open, and more importantly - comprehensive, all encompassing. 2) Wikipedia has a clear policy on how Wikipedia Zero should be made available.
No exchange of payment. The Wikimedia Foundation does not pay carriers to zero-rate access to the Wikimedia sites and does not receive payments from carriers through Wikipedia Zero.
Wikipedia Zero cannot be sold as part of a bundle. Access to the Wikimedia sites through Wikipedia Zero cannot be sold through limited service bundles.
No exclusive rights. We try to partner with as many carriers as possible to maximize the number of users that can benefit from the initiative.
Open to collaborating with other public interest sites. Our main goal is to promote free access to knowledge and we want to help other similar services interested in doing the same.
These are all fantastic ways to make sure that their good intention is not misused.
Now, these are existing zero-rating schemes. We can think of more schemes.
There could be government subsidized zero-rated Internet.
There could be government regulated zero-rated Internet that's funded by Telecoms/commercial websites.
There could be, as WWW foundation said,
a free allowance of mobile data for each citizen, funded through a universal service fund
Enhanced investment in public wifi access points, anchored around public access facilities such as libraries, hospitals, schools or mixed use entrepreneurial areas
When comparing all these zero-rated schemes, it is easy to point out which schemes are good for the public and which schemes are bad. But the difficult comparison is which schemes are easy and which schemes are difficult.
For, schemes like Internet.org are lucrative for the telecoms and the companies supporting it. And therefore, it is much easy to be implemented (in fact, it can be done by the flip of a switch I guess). But these do not lead to an ideal Internet.
We must oppose schemes that are arbitarily designed with no specific audience or time frame in mind.
We must support and strive to create those schemes which preserve the Openness of the Internet.
We can also push the Governments to find out even more creative solutions.