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Indian net neutrality fans tell Facebook to Zuck off
Internet.org labelled land-grab while real problem of connectivity remains
Online activists in India have published a stinging attack on Facebook and its efforts to provide online services in the nation.
Savetheinternet.in, an effort organised and funded by concerned citizens, published their post in response to a visit to India by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. As is his wont, Zuckerberg conducted a “town hall question and answer meeting”, in which at about the 34-minute mark in (see video) he responded to a question about net neutrality.
In his lengthy answer, Zuckerberg defended Free Basics, the service Facebook offers that allows developers to devise services that The Social NetworkTM's telco partners don't count towards download allowances. About 15 million people have used Free Basics, Zuckerberg said, and of those about half appreciate online services so much they sign up for a full account.
Zuckerberg goes on to explain that Facebook supports net neutrality and that regulation in the field is needed to stop “things that are going go hurt people” such as operators that charge for access to video services like Netflix or YouTube or carriers who advantage their own services ahead of third-parties' efforts.
Then came the sting, in the form of an assertion that “Most of the folks pushing for Net Nuetrality have access to the internet already.” Zuckerberg added that “People who are not yet on the internet can't sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the internet.”
“We have a moral responsibility to look out for those who don't have internet,” he concluded. “We must not twist rules to hurt those who don't have a voice.”
The activists' response is that Internet.org and Free Basics include “restrictions that those services which compete with telecom operator services will not be allowed on it.”
“You also reserve the right to reject services from Internet.org. We fail to understand why, if it is an open platform, someone even needs to apply, and conform to your pre-defined technical limitations, and has to go through unspecified checks determined by your organization.”
The activists also accuse Facebook of having monetisation, not altruism, at the core of its agenda and back up that argument by pointing to several programs in India that offer internet access without grazing on Net Neutrality issues and that prove universal access doesn't have to involve a walled garden.
“Lastly, we’d like to point out that Free Basics does nothing to help address India’s key problem ... improving access infrastructure so that users get seamless high speed connectivity,” the group says. “We need to focus on growing the pie, not splitting the pie.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited Facebook in Silicon Valley, but that trip didn't go down entirely well with Indian critics who feel the company is one of a long line of foreign interests promising to improve and civilise the country. India's red carpet welcome mat remains well and truly rolled out for technology businesses, and the folks behind Savetheinternet.in recognise the benefits that has brought to their communities. But there's a rising mood in India that locals want offshore companies to address Indian problems, not the problem of satisfying shareholders on another continent. ®