Zuckerberg triggers turf over on-going Free Basics Vs Net Neutrality debate


New Delhi: Despite Free Basics Vs Net Neutrality still being an ongoing debate, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a personal piece in an English daily, defending Free Basics. This has taken the war over “free” and “selective” internet services for the poor and net neutrality to a new phase.

“Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his opinion piece. This, he claimed was an attempt to defend his ambitious initiative to provide a pre-selected suite of internet services to those who can’t afford it.

“There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over the last few weeks,” he added.

However, the very next day, Nikhil Pahwa, a volunteer with savetheinternet.in, wrote a counterpoint in the same daily against Zuckerberg’s appeal to save Free Basics.

“Why has Facebook chosen the current model for Free Basics, which gives users a selection of around a hundred sites (including a personal blog) and a real estate company homepage, while rejecting the option of giving the poor free access to the open, plural and diverse web,” he reiterated to the Facebook founder.

Several messages and notifications against the Free Basics had been going around on web pages. Meanwhile, users who log on to their Facebook accounts are greeted with a message: “Act Now to Save Free Basics in India. E-mails and forward messages were send, asking people to appeal to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in support Free Basics in India.”

Some users are even receiving “notifications” from friends: “sending messages to TRAI about Free Basics.” At the same time, TRAI has announced a Wednesday deadline for public’s response on Free Basics. At the same time people can go to the online portal savetheinternet.in to register support for net neutrality.

To brief the on-going turf, net neutrality means that governments and internet service providers treat all data on the internet equally. They are not charged based on the user, content, platforms, sites, applications or mode of communication. However, Free Basics is an app that gives users selective access to services like communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information — all without data charges.

Facebook rechristened its free internet platform internet.org — which it developed in conjunction with Reliance Communications Network — as Free Basics in September. According to Facebook, it has been able to offer Free Basics services to a billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Reports says that India is expected to have 500 million internet users by the end of 2017. “What kind of an internet they get access to is important for our country. This is why the battle for Net Neutrality, with the last and current TRAI consultations included, is the battle for our Internet Freedom,” said supporters of Net Neutrality.

Speaking to the press, Zuckerberg said during his recent visit to India in November, he said the, the Free Basics platform aims at solving three problems of connecting to the internet — availability, affordability and awareness.

He said “Free Basics programme under the Internet.org initiative aims to connect the next billion people. It does not intend to harm anyone — neither the consumers nor the operators”. He reiterated India’s importance as a market for Facebook and said nearly 250 million of the targeted next billion will come from India.