As an Internet user, I believe that its power lies in being open, fair, equally accessible, and non discriminatory. And I wholeheartedly support the dream of creating a digital India, connecting a billion+ people to the Internet.
I’d like to thank you for speaking, time and again, about the importance of ensuring that all people have access to the Internet. However, I believe that in order for that to happen, individuals must have access to the entire world wide web, and not just small slices of it.
The services Facebook is offering, specifically under the project “Internet.org” through platforms such as Free Basics, ambitiously hope to bring millions of Indians online. However, Indian users will not be getting access to the Internet. Instead, through Internet.org, users will only get access to a small, regulated, and limited version of the “Internet” with Facebook and telecom companies as gatekeepers. This vision is at odds with the "Digital India" project that many Indians are strongly backing.
This leads to the question of “Isn’t some Internet better than no Internet?” The answer is that it’s not a binary choice. Mozilla, in their response to the Department of Telecom report on net neutrality, points out that their partnership with Grameenphone in Bangladesh allows users to receive 20 MB of data usage for free each day, in exchange for viewing an advertisement. Mozilla’s partnership with Orange will allow residents of multiple African countries to purchase $40 Firefox OS smartphones that come packaged with 3-6 free months of voice, text, and up to 500 MB per month of data. They add, “Scaling up arrangements like these could represent a long-term solution to the key underlying problems of digital inclusion and equality.”
Internet.org, however, draws more people toward a “zero-rated” Internet instead of looking for and providing opportunities to ensure that ALL of the Internet reaches people in a fair and equal way, without Facebook as a gatekeeper.
Giving one or a handful of services to users for free while charging other service-providers will hurt competition and result in an unequal playing field. Instead of building infrastructure to give impoverished communities access to all of the Internet, Internet.org sets up the scenario to keep poor folks stuck with low-bandwidth, walled-off "Internet" for a long time to come.
Facebook claims that Internet.org is open to all developers and will not discriminate against any services. However, there exists an approval process within the platform which requires for sites to meet certain guidelines. Even after this, there is no guarantee that the site will be allowed on the platform. Furthermore, there are serious concerns raised around privacy as these sites will have to hand over their data to you.
Mr. Zuckerberg, on several occasions you have stated that Facebook supports net neutrality. However, your actions and services directly counter that claim.
I’d request you to take a strong stand on net neutrality and ensure your actions reflect this stand.
As an Internet user, I want to use my voice to ensure that the next billion Indians to get connected to the Internet have the same Internet as I to have access to.
Early research from India suggests less experienced, low-income users prefer an open, unlimited internet rather than zero rated plans (Amba Kak, THE INTERNET UN-BUNDLED, Msc Thesis (Oxford, 2015). Finally, some research on Zero Rated offers and users. And it’s surprising: http://lirneasia.net/2015/10/finally-some-research-on-zero-rated-offers-and-users-and-its-surprising/
A Jhatkaa.org Initiative