Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, wants to bring free Internet to the people all around the world who lack it, so that they can know what the Internet is all about. So far, his project, called Internet.org, is in 25 countries, and Facebook is investing money into delivering cheap Wi-Fi to villages and beaming Internet service from drones. To expand it to India, Facebook partnered with the cellphone carrier Reliance Communications to provide free Internet service. The free services include “news articles, health and job information and a text-only version of Facebook”. The free access is restricted, which minimizes data usage and the cost for the phone company.
Mr. Khan, a cellphone shop owner in Mumbai, displayed a banner advertising Internet.org, but once he found out what it was for, he took it down. Mr. Khan stated that, “The Reliance connection is very patchy, and I would really have to sell the customer on it.” Reliance is not popular because of its slow data network and poor customer service. Because most cell service in India is prepaid and people have to pay for data, customers do not want free Internet.
Since many people are skeptical about Internet.org, Facebook has been struggling with bringing it to India. Many Indians believe that this project is a way to sign people up for paid plans with Reliance and join Facebook. It is too expensive to make the entire Internet free. The problem with Internet.org is that it violates net neutrality. The consumer should decide what they can access on the Internet, not the operators. Internet service providers should provide access to all content on the Internet.
In a post by Mark Zuckerberg on his Facebook page from April, he disagrees with the criticisms of Internet.org against net neutrality. He says, “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.” He thinks that Internet.org is a free service for the less fortunate; therefore, it does not violate net neutrality. Zuckerberg believes that net neutrality and universal connectivity must coexist, and any arguments about net neutrality should not be used to prevent underprivileged people from gaining Internet access.
Although connectivity improves lives, it seems as if the goal of this project is to expand business and make money to a new generation of users, not follow its altruistic claims of educating the public with universal free Internet. I agree with the mission, but I think it could be approached differently in India. For example, there could be a certain amount of free data each month that the consumer could decide how to use. Also, Internet.org should be accessible to more than just Reliance customers. Right now, Facebook is continuously making changes to Internet.org and listening to criticism.