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Friday, April 24, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg Clarifies Internet.org on Facebook - A Counter-Argument

On 17th April 2015, Mark Zukerberg clarified about internet.org and his mission to provide free internet access to millions of people who are otherwise deprived of it due to regional, economical, political or personal factors. He posted a message on his Facebook page to respond to the public outcry on Net Neutrality in India. Since I believe that true journalism is in bringing forward both sides of an argument, I am sharing the message here:- (Directly quoted from Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Page). 

"Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about Internet.org and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see. 

First, I’ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet. In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world — and now they could actually make that happen through the internet. 

The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education. 

I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities. 

In many countries, however, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity. 

This is why we created Internet.org, our effort to connect the whole world. By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, Internet.org offers free access in local languages to basic internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. Internet.org lowers the cost of accessing the internet and raises the awareness of the internet’s value. It helps include everyone in the world’s opportunities. 

We’ve made some great progress, and already more than 800 million people in 9 countries can now access free basic services through Internet.org. In India, we’ve already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana. And we just launched in Indonesia on the Indosat network today. 

We’re proud of this progress. But some people have criticized the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this. 

We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. 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. 

But net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — universal connectivity and net neutrality — can and must coexist. 

To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free. If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all. 

Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes -- and it never will. We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected. 

Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. 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. 

Every person in the world deserves access to the opportunities the internet provides. And we can all benefit from the perspectives, creativity and talent of the people not yet connected. We have a historic opportunity to connect billions of more people worldwide for the first time. We should work together to make that happen now." 

(This post was flooded with counter responses, in the form of comments, from Indian citizens pointing out the various flaws in the whole statement, for which Mark has not given any suitable replies.) 

Counter-argument

This is Mark Zuckerberg's point of view. But the public at large isn't convinced about the need of having something like internet.org to provide free internet services to the people. Why create this divide between what should be accessed for free and why should they have to pay extra to view other websites when they have already paid for a internet data package. 

Mobile operators are already charging for data packages according to individual preferences and their usage wherein we are free to access whichever website we want to and also are free to download any apps from the various mobile app platforms (which may be free or paid). But that's again an individual choice.


So here, what can be seen is that a few top companies (Facebook in point) is trying to increase traffic to his own site through a platform created by him for personal gains via exclusivity granted to one mobile operator (Reliance, in this case in India) in the garb of doing charity work. Please remember, nothing comes for free. And this is no charity. Both Reliance and Facebook will be laughing their way to the bank. 

If they so believed in charity, or wanted to provide free internet access to a wider audience or the poor, like he is suggesting, why can't the mobile operators or government just provide a free wi-fi zone for villagers? And many other public places? How many such free wi-fi zones are available in public places in India? None. Atleast, none that I know of. Whereas most developed countries have such free wi-fi zones scattered all over, so that connectivity to the net at any point of time is not such a major issue. These free wi-fi zones are available at major bus stops, public gardens, airports, railway stations etc. 

Sorry Mark, but I still don't see why we need a separate platform like internet.org to access the internet, which by it's own virtue is the "world wide web" and should be "open" and equally available to all at any point of time. As far as I can see, you are trying to control what people can access or can't by providing them a separate gateway, and then also making them pay for it. Slowly, other mobile operators will follow suit and have their own preferences as to the "bundle" of websites that should be included in the package. It is obvious that the companies, or websites that can afford to pay more for their inclusion in this package will get included rather than the websites that cannot pay. 

Already, as a case in point, Airtel (one of India's biggest mobile operator company) has come up with it's own Airtel Zero Plan, which has it's own set of rules or inclusions in the package provided. As a result of the public outcry, Flipkart one of the major e-commerce shopping sites in India decided to opt out of the package. Soon followed by Cleartrip.com (travel company) who also opted out of internet.org. So, clearly things are not as they claim to be. 

Soon, this will blow out of proportion and things will become difficult to control. The whole idea of internet (cyberworld) that was free to access and browse will become controlled, similar to what's happening in the digital TV world, where we are forced to select certain bundles of channels and pay for them even when we don't really end up watching even half of them. But, taking only individual channels is also equally expensive. 

So, I would urge all the people to read more on this issue at length, and protect your rights. I still believe that internet should be free to all, and a few selected biggies should not be allowed to manipulate the way we access it now, or ever. A lot of changes have happened since the advent of the internet and many people are now totally dependent on the internet for their daily earnings via websites, blogs, e-commerce sites or even freelance writing etc. Should they have to now pay to access their own sites?

There are always two sides to every coin. Here are some relevant articles that will enlighten us on this topic:

1. Timeline: Airtel Zero to internet.org, what fuelled the ongoing Net Neutrality debate in India
2. Cleartrip And Mainstream Media Websites Opted Out From internet.org
3. Why Flipkart Opted out of Airtel Zero And the Net Neutrality Debate so far.
4. In TRAI inbox, a million messages in support of Net Neutrality

Let the debate continue....

1 comment:

Nikhil Shirodkar said...

Hey Priya attempting to get in touch with you... pls check your LinkedIn pending invitation and accompanying msg from me! Best Nikhil Shirodkar

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