Facebook’s much-touted Free Basics programme has run afoul of activists for a free and equal internet in India. When Facebook launched a petition addressed to the telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India(TRAI )and asked users to sign it to save its Free Basics programme, many unsuspecting subscribers signed on. Soon, however, the petition was met with howls of protests from net neutrality supporters decrying the move and who soon launched a counter-petition. Soon, the tech-driven start-up world in India had thrown its hat in the ring, too, with many coming out in support of net neutrality.
The problem is that, contrary to what it claims, it doesn’t offer equal and unbiased access to all services. Facebook is partnering with ISPs to provide preferential and selective access to a set of app developers and services. This is the main criticism of those opposed to Free Basics; they argue that the internet should be free and equal for all users. This is also the cornerstone of net neutrality.
Net neutrality means access to free and unbiased internet for all. To put it in simple terms, anyone from anywhere around the world should be able to access or provide services and content on the internet without any discrimination.
Facebook launched the initiative in India in February by partnering with Reliance Communications. RCom offers the Free Basics service under a ‘Freenet’ button on mobile phones. It started with free access to select 33 websites across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa. This was since Facebook had already been at the receiving end from net neutrality supporters, especially the Save the Internet crusaders, it launched ‘Send a Mail to Trai to Save Free Basics’ campaign asking users to send signed emails to the Trai in support of the campaign. Facebook claims already 3.2 million of its 130 million users in India have sent the mail.
On Wednesday, the Times of India newspaper reported that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has asked Reliance Communications to suspend its Free Basics service.
A couple of weeks earlier, the Trai had issued a consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, where it had asked if telecom operators should be allowed to have different pricing for accessing different websites, applications and platforms. Trai said some service providers were offering differential data tariff with free or discounted tariffs to certain contents of certain websites, applications or platforms. Trai has invited comments till December 31.
According to Facebook, Free Basics is “at risk of being banned” in India. For those who have come in late, Free Basics is a controversial initiative that is aimed at widening online access in the developing world. It offers people without the Internet, free access to a handful of websites through mobile phones. Critics, however, are warning that it isn’t as free as it is being made out to be. Net neutrality activists say it violates the principle that the whole Internet should be available to all, unrestricted by any one company. The movement has gathered momentum and recently, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ordered Reliance Communications, the sole mobile operator for the service, to suspend it temporarily without giving a reason.
Facebook doesn’t pay for Free Basics, telecom operators do. Where do they make money from? From users who pay. By encouraging people to choose Free Basics, Facebook reduces the propensity to bring down data costs for paid Internet access.Mark Zuckerberg has been pushing for Free Basics in a big way, to increase the database, which will increase the eco, to increase the database, which will increase the economy.Free Basics isn’t about bringing people online. It’s about keeping Facebook and its partners free, while everything else remains paid. Users who pay for Internet access can still access Free Basics for free, giving Facebook and its partners an advantage. Free Basics is a violation of Net Neutrality
Internet access is growing rapidly in India. We’ve added 100 million users in 2015. Almost all the connections added in India the last 1 year are NOT because of Free Basics.Free Basics is not an open platform. Facebook defines the technical guidelines for Free Basics, and reserves the right to change them. They reserve the right to reject applicants, who are forced to comply with Facebook’s terms. In contrast they support ‘permissionless innovation’ in the US.
The only source of info on Facebook’s Free Basics is Facebook, and it misleads people. Facebook was criticised in Brazil for misleading advertising.Their communication in India is misleading. People find the “Free” part of Free Basics advertising from Facebook (or FreeNet free Internet) from Reliance misleading.
Facebook gets access to all the usage data and usage patterns of all the sites on Free Basics. No website which wants to compete with Facebook will partner with them because it will have to give them user data. Facebook gives data to the NSS and this is a security issue for India.Research has shown that people prefer to use the open web for a shorter duration over a limited set of sites for a longer duration.Facebook says that Free Basics doesn’t have ads, but does not say that it will never have ads on Free Basics.Facebook has shown people as saying that they support Free Basics when they haven’t. They may claim 3.2 million in support, but the question here arises, is how many of those mails are legitimate?