The Free Internet Project

Mark Zuckerberg appeals to India before key decision on platform, amid protests of net neutrality violation

Ahead of a key decision by India's telecommunications regulatory body, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a blog post in the Times of India to defend his nonprofit, which provides free (but limited) Internet access to under-served areas.  The service is called "Free Basics," which enables users to access the Internet but only for a limited number of apps, such as weather, Wikipedia, and, yes, Facebook. Other app developers can apply to to be included in Free Basics.   

Zuckerberg writes: "Who could possibly be against this? Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India. Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people.  Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim – falsely – that this will make the internet more like a walled garden. Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim – falsely – that this will give people less choice. Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim – falsely – the exact opposite."

Critics of the program, however, argue that provide free access for a select few apps violates the principle of net neutrality, under which all content is treated equally and none is privileged by an Internet provider.  Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, wrote an impassioned op-ed in the Washington Post, "India deserves better than Mark Zuckerberg’s watered-down Internet."  Wadhwa writes: "Zuckerberg is on the defensive because he doesn’t understand the culture and values of Indians.  He doesn’t realize that Ganesh cherishes the freedom that India gained from its British colonizers in 1947 and doesn’t want a handout from a Western company. Ganesh may be poor, but he doesn’t want anyone to dictate what sites he can visit, what movies he may watch, or what applications he can download."

For more on the debate, see this article.

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