Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, which offers free access to a selection of internet services, has met severe resistance from digital firms in India. Initially, about 40 services had signed up for the initiative but most of them later abandoned the service and favoured net neutrality.
Mark Zuckerberg today fought back in a statement on his Facebook page saying that net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected.
“We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open,” Zuckerberg says. “Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it. Universal connectivity and net neutrality – can and must coexist.”
Making a strong case for Facebook’s initiative, he says, “Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”
Zuckerberg also clarified that Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes – and it never will.
In India, Facebook has already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana.
The whole net neutrality issue flared up in India due to Facebook’s launch of Internet.org in the country as well as a controversial data package deal from local telco Airtel. That plan, called Airtel Zero, would allow users to enjoy free data to access a selection of mobile apps. It had signed up the likes of Flipkart for the service, but most of them later withdrew in support of net neutrality.
Here’s what some of the poster boys of India’s startup ecosystem have to say on this hot-button topic:
Mahesh Murthy, partner, Seed Fund:
“Saying that net neutrality and Internet.org can co-exist is moral equivalent of saying freedom and slavery can co-exist. Internet.org is not the internet for poor people. It is Facebook for poor people with some other minor players thrown in: Babajob for jobs (not Naukri) and Bing for search (not Google). It’s the ‘poor internet for poor people.’ Look at it another way – it’s just a way for Facebook to recruit more users that they can sell ads against. That’s it.”
“NetNeutrality is not a middle class problem – it is a problem for all internet users, just like zero rating plans like Airtel Zero and Facebook Internet.org are a problem for all internet users. Zuckerberg may have dreams and visions – but the way to achieve them is not by exploiting the poorest of the poor – giving them an ugly, stunted and unbalanced selection of a few products and denying them the full power of the internet.”
Sachin Bansal, co-founder of Flipkart
“I spend time and money helping startups in India. Will never support things which suffocate innovation. We will be working towards ensuring that the spirit of net neutrality is upheld and applied equally to all companies in India irrespective of the size or the service being offered and there is absolutely no discrimination whatsoever.”
Kavin Bharati Mittal, founder, Hike
“I am extremely pro net neutrality. At the same time, we also must realize that this is India, not the US, not China. Over 60 per cent of our population lives on less than US$2 per day. Our market dynamics are very different from the rest of the world. We cannot simply copy/paste what’s worked and what’s not worked in those markets. We must to give room to both sides of the industry to experiment to bring the cost of the internet down significantly for the one billion plus population in India without blocking, throttling or discriminating against any service, with the basic principles of net neutrality intact. Because at the end of the day that’s what matters. Bringing over a billion Indians online.”
Vishal Gondal, founder, Goqii
“The internet is built on the premise that the best product wins. By giving preferential treatment to some apps, it changes this equation. Bad for the ecosystem just like a Walled Garden approach which killed the value-added services business. I hope Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) sees consumer interest and not act against net neutrality.”
Satyan Ganjwani, CEO, Times Internet
“We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level playing field for all companies – big and small – to produce the best service and offer it to consumers. We will lead the drive towards a neutral internet.”