22nd January, 2016
So the breaking news in the Indian world of Internet is Free Basics by Facebook. Is it actually what it sounds like or is there a catch? Well, Free Basics is an initiative of Internet.org which got into news after Mr. Modi met in his much talked about meet with Mr. Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley on 27 September 2015.
Internet.org is a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that aims on bringing economical accessibility to selected Internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. But Facebook faced a lot of criticism from some quarters of India and hence the free Internet platform got renamed to Free Basics by Facebook. After all, adding the term ‘free’ to any service does make it lucrative right?
Free Basics is being promoted heavily across various platforms in India (The rough estimate for endorsing this has been around 100 crores). It is a mix of Internet applications that are packaged together by Reliance Communications in India and given free only to its users. Read about it here .Their idea being giving people access to few free basic services offered by Internet and making them understand the value of the Internet. This app and web platform provides access to over 250 services. It is now live in 19 countries including India and will be part of the “larger objectives” of Internet.org. It also offers an open platform to developers and coders who can add their apps on the platform provided they meet the technical criteria. This all sounds efficient for the people who aren’t able to access the Internet and techies who are looking for such opportunities. But how beneficial this service really is?
My question is what is the real motive behind this move? Why can’t the government offer a free and neutral service to its citizens who really need it? What are the other solutions of taking poor and people in need to online platforms? Is there a different way to connect India without Free Basics? Read More.How will the Internet property remain public and free? Why is this being routed through Facebook? How will the offline population come online? Which companies will help in this movement? How will they get benefited?
Many people who are opposing this move are saying that big sites aren’t a part of this movement. Yes, I choose to call this service a movement because that’s how it is being project subtly in heads of people who are made to think that this will change their lives. The results depend on time but according to what’s been shown and projected by Facebook, this sounds like a good deal, again, only for those who can’t access basic services on the Internet.
According to Facebook, many big sites are participants of Free Basics like India Today, Network 18, Accuweather, BBC, Bing and literally hundreds more around the globe. About the privacy concerns, they do not keep any customer personally identifiable information (PII) past 90 days. To make this clearer, you can go through the list of sites which are available in Free Basics program. And according to Reliance, services can be removed or added time to time.
More than half of the sites mentioned are nowhere close to our knowledge. For those who understand the Internet language, only two of India’s top sites as ranked by Alexa are there is this package. One of them being Facebook itself and another one is Wikipedia. So there’s no Google, no Youtube, no Twitter, No Amazon, no LinkedIn, no IRCTC, no Makemytrip and the list goes on. So when it comes to basics of Indian internet, this movement doesn’t seem very beneficial. There’s no Google! How can they even call it Free Basics without Google! Now that’s the beauty of words which is clearly being misused by Facebook.
Facebook says that Free Basics program is is growing and popular in 36 countries. What it forgets to mention that the more online-progressive countries like Japan, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Netherlands have outright banned programs such as Free Basics.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, says that consumers should say no to initiatives such as Free Basics (formerly Internet.org), and added that if something that is being offered in the name of the Internet and isn’t the full Internet, then it’s not really free and public.
By the way, Free Basics isn’t the only program launched to connect people to the Internet (read as limited internet). For example, in India, Aircel has begun providing full internet access for free at 64 kbps download speed for the first three months. Facebook could sponsor and expand that.
Schemes such as Gigato offer data for free for surfing some sites. The Mozilla Foundation runs two programs for free and neutral Internet access. Facebook could work with them. In Bangladesh, Grameenphone users get free data in exchange for watching an advertisement. In Africa, Orange users get 500 MB of free access on buying a $37 handset.
There are many ways to connect people but offering them a restricted space on Internet and then calling it as the best bridge to a full internet is a way of fooling people. It is a way of not introducing Google to those people which happens to be the biggest competitor of Facebook. The way with which Facebook is trying to make people support Free Basics cannot be ignored. It is fooling them by not stating the facts and figures clearly? Unfortunately, I happen to be a part of the group too when unknowingly I sent email to TRAI by only reading terms as Net Neutrality. After sending the mail, I realised that I had supported Free Basics. Like me there are so many others who unintentionally supported Free Basics. Told you, the beauty of words! Reports also show that Facebook is trying to get users in US to send emails to TRAI. If it’s true, it’s a really cheap move taken by them.
Facebook is neither achieving Net Neutrality nor it is supporting digital equality.
Here’s what SaveTheInternet.in had to say about all this:
“There are several ways other than zero-rating and differential pricing to bring internet access to millions of Indians who hitherto cannot access internet due to high data costs…Here it is important to note that some telecom service providers and Facebook have misled people to believe that there is no other way but to resort to differential pricing and zero rating to expand internet access…”
So the battle will go on for some time because India as a united nation wants a free and public internet. We want the people from rural India to come online and benefit from the services which Internet offers but we aren’t ready to get fooled by superlative language which only misguides us.
PGP Marketing Communications 2015-16