Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ is Now Available in India, But Tech Activists Aren’t Happy


Formerly known as Internet.org, ‘Free Basics’ is a Facebook initiative to provide free but restricted internet to the developing world.

The stripped-down internet version targets the less fortunate consumers who can access neither broadband connection nor smartphone data plans.

The program provides information on basic, popular and universal areas of interests-health, jobs, travel and local government. The service includes Facebook app, Ask.com, Bing, Baby Center, Dictionary.com and Wikipedia among others. The service was recently introduced in India by Facebook partnering with wireless carrier Reliance Communications.

India’s tech activists not thrilled by Zuckerberg’s move

However, most Indian tech activists have not received the offer whole-heartedly. Critics accuse Facebook’s program of violating the vital canons on net neutrality, a code dictating that telecom operators provide people with equal access to the internet. They want the company to provide the whole internet if it has the interests of the poor at heart. In a more critical view, the critics claim Facebook has commercial aims behind the program.

India’s prominent personalities have expressed their discontent in the service. Renowned Indian venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy described the program as colonialism carried out by the tall tale of ‘digital equality’. The internet activist further added that the program does not aim at providing poor Indians with profitable activities rather occupy them with Facebook’s non-profitable services.

Mr. Murthy pointed at Indians poking themselves and playing Candy Crush as some of the useless activities on offer through Facebook. He feels his less fortunate countrymen and women need a platform where they can look up for facts on Google, study on Khan Academy, sell their goods on product market or even search for work. Flipkart’s former chief technology officer, Amod Malviya, stated that Indians do not need Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ to free them.

Nevertheless, some Indians support the move. Novelist Manu Joseph wrote in New York Times recently saying it’s the paid internet that is limiting as it denies net to those who cannot pay.

Mark Zuckerberg responds to internet.org critics

Facebook CEO is not impressed with the perception of some Indian tech activists on his company’s initiative to make the world a better place. Although on paternity leave following the birth of his daughter, he responded to the critics on Monday. The Times of India last week reported that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India asked Reliance Communications to stop providing the service as it evaluates its legality, a move that infuriated the Facebook boss.

He is particularly disappointed that India is debating net neutrality when it struggles to connect its citizens to the Internet. He classifies net neutrality as the first-world problem that does not apply to India alone. Mr. Zuckerberg said the service provides basic internet free, opens the whole internet, and is an open platform that will partner with any Telco and respects net neutrality. Consequently, he has asked critics to keep off false claims and instead urged them to support the program and make it a success not just in India, but also in other parts of the world.

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