Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, is continuing to advocate for his company’s plan to offer free but limited Internet access in India. Facebook’s Free Basics Internet service, formerly called Internet.org, has faced opposition in India, which has more people without Internet service than any other country.
Critics of Zuckerberg’s plan have said that the service is contrary to Net neutrality, the principle that Internet providers allow equal access to all online content, and it also has the potential to discourage innovation and competition in India by offering services for free that other companies must charge for.
In an opinion piece written for The Times of India, Zuckerberg (pictured) defended the Free Basics service, comparing it to the essential, subsidized services offered by libraries and public hospitals. He said that even though libraries and hospitals have limits on what they can offer, they still have overwhelmingly positive effects. Free Basics would only offer access to a small number of sites, but that doesn’t make it less of an essential public service.
Need To Connect
In his piece, “Free Basics Protects Net Neutrality,” Zuckerberg maintained that the Free Basics service is a bridge to the full Internet and digital equality.
“We know that when people have access to the Internet they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare, communication,” said Zuckerberg. “We know that for every 10 people connected to the Internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty. We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the Internet. That’s not theory. That’s fact.”
There are more Facebook users in India, the world’s second-most populous nation, than any country besides the United States. The Free Software Movement of India, a coalition of free software movements operating in different parts of India, has undertaken its own campaign against Free Basics.
The coalition has said that Facebook is misleading users and cautioned that the free service could be replete with advertising if and when it’s implemented. Zuckerberg has said that there aren’t any ads in the version of Facebook included in Free Basics.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India recently asked Reliance Communications, which partners with Facebook in India, to suspend access to Free Basics while the authority scrutinizes the program’s terms and conditions. The authority is expected to rule next month on whether Facebook can proceed with Free Basics.
In addition to Zuckerberg’s opinion piece, the social media giant has also taken out full-page ads in a number of Indian newspapers advocating for Free Basics. Facebook is spending billions of dollars on projects intended to deliver Internet service to underserved areas. Zuckerberg said that India’s progress depends on providing Web access to the 1 billion Indians without it.
“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,” Zuckerberg said, adding that half of those who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full Internet within 30 days.
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