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The Internet.org Net Neutrality Debate – A Contrarian View

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Free Basics FAcebook Internet.org

There has been a lot of noise on the internet about Net Neutrality in India. Specially after Honourable Prime Minister visited the Facebook offices and the viral tricolour profile picture and the fiasco post that. I have been reading, following the discussion about the net neutrality starting from the Airtel, TRAI circular, Internet.org, AIB video and thousand other shared Facebook Posts, tweets, and blogs.

I have done all, shared those videos, posts, wrote emails to TRAI etc all in the name of net neutrality. I understand the concept and appreciate it. However, I have lately taken to wonder if my stand and belief is justified. A lot of it is based on Internet.org (or now renamed as Free Basics), the concept being propagated by Facebook where the bottom of the pyramid folks get access to a specific set of sites for no charge.

I understand this at some level violates the principles of net neutrality and might tilt a level playing field. To give you a perspective, I border on the obsession of being connected. I have two cellular connections with Internet connection, one data card, one fibre optic broadband and a fail safe broadband in case the fibre optic isn’t working. I spend a fair amount every month to get this kind of connectivity while fending for my obsession. I wonder what happens to people who don’t have money to spend on buying connectivity? Mark Zuckerberg wrote about those children in Chandauli village who saw connectivity for the first time, what about them?

Don’t they have a right to experience Internet or a part of it?

While the middle class, upper middle class and the rich are busy sharing corny, degraded humour on whatsapp 24*7, what about the poorest of the poor, Don’t they deserve even to know the weather forecast for next week? They have to make do with the inaccurate one in the newspaper at the local tea stall? They have to wait for their exam results or latest news to be published in news paper or put on the government school notice boards. Why the people which belong to the lower strata of the society be deprived of the essential connectivity? Why they can’t search for some government or medical procedure?

I see a lot of people complaining (including folks at trak.in, who vehemently oppose internet.org) about the net neutrality aspect of internet.org. I agree with their view point that the internet should be a level playing field. I totally agree with those funny AIB videos which talk about the importance of net neutrality.

But, what confuses me the most is when you go out and decide on behalf of those poorest of the poor, when you go all out on decide on behalf of those kids in Chandauli village that he should not get access to the restricted access to some 35 sites which are a part of internet.org, what do you offer him in return?

Do you have a plan which will make a neutral internet available to those kids and others in need and lack of money?

Are these people going to launch a startup to provide free access to internet, you don’t need to be restricted to that 35 sites, here is a completely neutral internet free of charge for you. If we can’t provide that to a kid in Chandauli with a better alternative, then what right do we have to deny him basic connectivity as restrictive as it may be.

As a matter of fact a lot of technological changes have happened in a similar fashion, where disrupters came and disrupted the industry bringing change in the entire dynamics of the industries. There are umpteen examples of this industry disruptions, the time when SMSes killed Pagers, then SMSes were killed by Whatsapp. Then there were times when Reliance launched mobile calls at a nominal rates of few paise per minute, when Google & Apple started giving weather update on your phone killing the Airtel Special service which provided weather forecast @3Rs/SMS.

Like any other industry there is a win-win fortune which lies at the bottom of the pyramid, and if internet.org is going to provide some kind of free service by cross subsidizing the connectivity costs from advertisement revenues we should probably accept the challenge and come with a low cost connectivity solution with less restrictive internet. Calling foul on Zuckerberg doesn’t work in my opinion.

This is what makes me so confused about the internet.org platform.

Two conflicting views and I am probably in agreement with both. What do you think.

[Author BioPrateek Gupta is a Management Consultant in supply chain and business transformation by the day and an author by the night. You can read more about him at his FB page]

"The Internet.org Net Neutrality Debate – A Contrarian View", 5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings.
  1. Santokh Singh Saggu says

    What an Emotional Black Mail Content , bringing poor people in front to protect monopoly.You guys are just Master Actors and Master seducers to hide your evil intentions of Monopoly.

    1. DigitalGalaxy says

      I agree Santokh! Facebook is trying to sneak in their Internet monopoly onto those who do not know any better! Do not fall for those lies! The people of the entire world need FREE Internet, the entire Internet, even if the free kind is slow. Stop their monopoly!

  2. DigitalGalaxy says

    Facebook is going about this the wrong way.

    Free basics is not “free facebook”, free basics is “free Internet up to a gig or so, then throttled speed after that.”

    Facebook knows that Internet access is a basic necessity in today’s day and age. And yet they are trying to water down that basic necessity by only forcing people onto Facebook. Facebook, as a technology giant, has a moral responsibility to ensure the world is connected. Fully connected.

    Not just Facebook! Google, Apple, Micro$oft, Ubuntu ( yes you too Shuttleworth!), all of these companies have a responsibility to provide at least basic connectivity to the entire web, even if it is slow and you have to pay for more speed after a certain point. Because these are tech companies, and they know that without Internet access humanity is stuck in the stone ages.

    Mozilla has answered this responsibly with cheap Firefox OS phones that anybody, even the poorest, can afford. These Firefox phones are important because they are cheap enough to bridge the digital divide. Now Facebook and Google need to provide real free basics, a free gig or so of fast Internet, then maybe it will get slow again unless the people pay up. That is real “free basics”.

    Internet.org needs to conform to the moral responsibility of the technology industry to connect the entire world, not a short-sighted ad campaign.

    Keep fighting, India! You deserve the full Internet, for everyone, not just a corner of it! Do not give in to Facebook’s half- baked bribery! Demand the real thing, Facebook (and all the other tech giants) has a moral imperative to connect the world’s people. Do not let them twist that imperative into a means to control the flow of information!

  3. Rajeesh Nair says

    That’s where it gets complicated. It was never about free Internet… Govt. can easily offer free internet services to remote villages with proper infrastructure. You don’t need a Facebook with limited internet branded as free internet to be offer to the people living there…

    I wonder how are these folks going to use the internet when they are not getting the basic necessities such as Food, Healthcare and most importantly education. Instead of offering free limited internet, Indian Government should focus upon setting up virtual classrooms in these places and help them learn about the world, its future, its past, science and every new technology through the medium of internet…

    90% of the things on the Internet is in English.. How can you be sure that offering free limited internet will help these underprivileged people? Internet is not about Facebook, WhatsApp or Email checking… Its about finding information, delivering information and getting update about everything everyday every hour…

  4. Mohul Ghosh says

    Interesting views on Net neutrality and Internet.org. Here is a justification, why I have been vehemently opposing Internet.org in India:

    The problem with providing Facebook powered free Internet to that kid in Chandauli is that, it makes him a slave of capitalism. For that kid, Internet will be forever become Facebook and those websites allowed to access by Facebook. He will help Facebook to charge more dollars from advertisers, and to control the Internet more fiercely.

    The problem is that, there won’t be any new Apple or Google to disrupt Airtel’s Weather updates, because that kid from Chandauli will be addicted to free Weather updates from Airtel. He wont be able to understand what a fair, unregulated Internet is, and all he will become is a puppet in the hands of those who control the web. A scary situation.

    You will be surprised to know that 80% of Internet.org’s customers in India are those, who already used Internet in the past. Hence, they chose Internet.org to get free lunch, basically.

    If you read into the poverty scene of India, then you will be surprised to see the disparity. The strongest reason Internet.org is not required in India is that, the poorest of poor cant afford to have 2 times of meal, forget a smartphone which is required for ‘free Internet’. And those who are able to afford a smartphone are rich enough to afford a basic plan from non-regulated ISP. Why the hell only Reliance be allowed to get all new customers, in the garb of Free Internet??

    Yes, Internet can revolutionize everything, once that kid in Chandauli gets Internet access.. but to make that revolution, we need to provide that kid with fair, neutral Internet, which doesnt discriminate. Before this smartphone and Internet, we need them to be able to access food, health and education for an allround development. A rich farmer with no education can do nothing with Internet, even if its free.

    Yes, I am not going to launch a startup to provide these villagers with unregulated Internet, simply because its the work of the Govt. Being an observer, I will surely attempt to thwart attempts by billion dollar corporations to enslave Internet. Those ‘funny’ AIB videos are infact, quite striking in delivering the message: Trading long tern benefits with short term candies can enslave India, once again. And we dont need that.

  5. ]{S says

    This is a bogus argument. If FB, google etc are so interested in providing internet, they can lay out fibre / wireless connections to various remote places. They have more than enough money to roll out such a project. If necessary the government can give them a limited telecom license for precisely this purpose.

    What gives facebook, or airtel or any other provider to decide which sites are basic and which are not ? Of course they will promote their own websites at the expense of smaller site and app developers .

  6. Tarun Dua says

    The main problem with the entire argument is that somehow the “Free Basics” program is targeting end users who couldn’t afford the Internet in the first place. That doesn’t appear to be true. They seem to be targeting the students out to save a buck on their access to Facebook & whatsapp. The ones who’ll become the high spenders of tomorrow rather than the folks really below the poverty line. Facebook is to sell ad inventory to marketers, for that purpose all the bottom of the pyramid users are practically useless. They are trying to shift users to a walled garden from the real Internet ( with a capital I ).

  7. Manish says

    It is more important to provide food, electricity and water before internet. Providing free internet is important but we have look at the crores of uneducated child

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