Caught in a raging debate over net neutrality, social media giant Facebook has said a variety of models are needed to bring a billion people online while defending its Free Basics initiative.
Earlier this month, telecom regulator Trai has asked Reliance Communications to keep services of Facebook’s free Internet platform, Free Basics, in abeyance, till the issue on differential pricing is sorted out.
Defending its project in a post on Internet.org, the firm said “we need to be practical and make sure programs are deployed in a fair and transparent way”.
The Internet.org project was recently renamed as Free Basics and offers free access to a set of websites and services with the objective of introducing Internet.
Facebook cited web links of news reports of Aircel’s plan to provide free Internet to all its subscribers and Mozilla Foundation’s suggestions of equal rating.
“Two of the services mentioned haven’t even rolled out yet so it’s too early to call them successful,” the company said. Aircel, however, has partially rolled out its free Internet services in some parts of the country.
Facebook also questioned Gigato mobile app, which credits Internet data consumed for accessing website on its platform and gets paid from websites that have partnered with it.
“The third (Gigato) requires applications to pay to be featured, which should be a huge concern for net neutrality activists and is potentially damaging to startups who can’t afford to be part of the program,” Facebook said.
The social media major said that giving away free megabytes only helps existing Internet users as opposed to the unconnected and also means users on low-bandwidth phones could burn through their data very quickly.
Replying to the Facebook’s post, Gigato Co-Founder Raina Kumra said the company abides by all the principles of net neutrality. “It is possible to have a for-profit model that is net neutral for providing more access to the Internet as this is the only way to reach everyone in India,” he added.
Facebook also criticised Mozilla Executive Chairperson Mitchell Baker’s idea of ‘equal rating’ – a system wherein some amount of data necessary for modern life is offered at discounted or no charges while companies paying for it get a ‘brought to you by’ attribution.
“Ad supported models where users watch ads as a gate to online content impose a barrier, the form of ads, on new users. Sponsored data, where the advertiser is paying the operator for the data that is used by the consumer, creates an unequal paying field,” the post said.
Facebook, whose users include top leaders of the world including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that in a recent representative poll 86 percent of Indians supported Free Basics by Facebook and the idea that everyone deserves access to free basic Internet services.
In its post Facebook also claimed that because of its connectivity efforts, more than 15 million people who were previously unconnected are now using the Internet.
“Free Basics is open to any developer and we publish clear, simple, objective tech specifications,” Facebook said. In India, 40 per cent of people who come online through Free Basics are paying for data and accessing the full Internet within the first 30 days, it said.
Over the past few, US-based Facebook has undertaken an aggressive campaign in India to gather public support for its free Internet platform Free Basics.
In a recently published ad on the initiative, the company said, “Free Basics by Facebook is a first step to connecting one billion Indians to jobs, education, and opportunities online, and ultimately a better future. But Free Basics is at risk of being banned, slowing progress towards digital equality in India.”