Zuckerberg’s Free Basics Draws A-List Opponents: 10-Point Guide

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Should India allow Facebook’s initiative – Free Basics – which claims a commitment to bringing free basic Internet services to cellphone users across the country? You now have till January 7 to weigh in by writing to trai@email.savetheinternet.in. Here’s why this campaign fronted by Mark Zuckerberg has become so controversial:

  1. Facebook says that Free Basics (the main thrust of Internet.org) is aimed at bringing free Internet to millions of poor mobile phone users in rural areas. The package offers free news, health, and job articles from partners along with a text-only version of Facebook.
  2. Earlier this month, Trai or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, ordered Reliance Communications, the sole mobile operator of the service, to suspend Free Basics temporarily. The program was launched in six states as Internet.org in February this year, and was extended nationwide last month.
  3. Net neutrality activists say Zuckerberg’s plan violates the principle that the whole Internet should be available to all and unrestricted by any one company. They see it as a trojan horse being used by Facebook to control access to the Internet.
  4. Content provided by Free Basics is available free to mobile phone users, but they have to pay for other content – described by critics as “differential pricing” which results in a “tiered Internet” instead of providing a level playing field that allows innovation and startups to compete with established corporates.
  5. On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, 31, phoned Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of e-commerce major Paytm, to explain the benefits of Free Basics. The Paytm CEO has tweeted fierce opposition to Free Basics, urging a “jihad for independent Internet”. He is a key proponent ofSave The Internet which seeks your participation in lobbying against Free Basics.
  6. The founders of nine major startups have, in a letter to telecom regulator Trai, urged it to preserve “the open nature of the Internet.” Nearly 40 professors from IIT have also written to Trai, alleging that Free Basics “will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians use the Internet”.
  7. The social media giant took out billboards and full-page newspaper adverts and sent SMSs to defend its Free Basics service. In an editorial for the Times of India earlier this week, Zuckerberg wrote, “Instead of wanting to give people free access to basic Internet services, critics of the programme continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people.”
  8. Critics point out that in India, as reported by The New York Times, “the program offers free Web searches using Microsoft’s Bing service but Google searches incur a charge.”
  9. Facebook claims over 32 lakh people have petitioned India’s telecom regulator not to ban Free Basics, formerly named Internet.org.
  10. The government is considering new laws to govern free services after net neutrality turned into a national and raging debate.

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