Face­book CEO says ba­sics shut­down won’t keep In­ter­net.org out of In­dia

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

The Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of In­dia ef­fec­tively banned Face­book's Free Ba­sics pro­gram from the coun­try, rul­ing that the sys­tem and oth­ers like it vi­o­late the prin­ci­ples of net neu­tral­ity. It's a big set­back for Face­book's In­ter­net.org pro­gram, which looks to pro­vide ba­sic con­nec­tiv­ity to poor na­tions - but in a post to­day, Mark Zucker­berg said the rul­ing would not push In­ter­net.org out of In­dia en­tirely. "Our mis­sion is to make the world more open and con­nected," Zucker­berg wrote. "That mis­sion con­tin­ues, and so does our com­mit­ment to In­dia."

In the post, Zucker­berg framed the rul­ing as a de­feat for Free Ba­sics and other zero-rated pro­grams rather than In­ter­net.org at large. "While we're dis­ap­pointed with to­day's de­ci­sion, I want to per­son­ally com­mu­ni­cate that we are com­mit­ted to keep work­ing to break down bar­ri­ers to con­nec­tiv­ity in In­dia and around the world," the Face­book CEO wrote. "In­ter­net.org has many ini­tia­tives, and we will keep work­ing un­til ev­ery­one has ac­cess to the in­ter­net."

While Free Ba­sics has tra­di­tion­ally been the cen­ter­piece of In­ter­net.org's ac­cess ef­forts, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is also work­ing on a num­ber of other projects that could be de­ployed with­out vi­o­lat­ing TRAI's re­cent or­der, in­clud­ing am­bi­tious satel­lite and drone-based in­ter­net sys­tems de­vel­oped in the com­pany's Con­nec­tiv­ity Lab. It re­mains un­clear whether In­ter­net.org will shift away from Free Ba­sics out­side of In­dia, al­though the sys­tem may face sim­i­lar chal­lenges in other coun­tries. In­ter­net.org has pro­vided some form of con­nec­tiv­ity in more than 38 coun­tries across the world, the vast ma­jor­ity of those con­nect­ing through Free Ba­sics.

Face­book Inc.'s plans for ex­pan­sion in In­dia have suf­fered a ma­jor set­back.

Af­ter the com­pany spent months lob­by­ing the coun­try to ac­cept its Free Ba­sics ser­vice -- a way of de­liv­er­ing a lim­ited In­ter­net that in­cluded Face­book, plus some other tools, for no cost -- In­dia's tele­com reg­u­la­tor ruled against any plans from cel­lu­lar oper­a­tors that charge dif­fer­ent rates to dif­fer­ent parts of the Web.

Tele­com oper­a­tors can't of­fer dis­crim­i­na­tory tar­iffs for data ser­vices based on con­tent, and aren't al­lowed to en­ter into agree­ments with In­ter­net com­pa­nies to sub­si­dize ac­cess to some web­sites, the Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of In­dia said in a state­ment Mon­day. Com­pa­nies vi­o­lat­ing the rules will be fined, it said.

"This is the most ex­ten­sive and strin­gent regulation on dif­fer­en­tial pric­ing any­where in the world," Pranesh Prakash, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Cen­tre for In­ter­net and So­ci­ety, said via phone. "Those who sug­gested regulation in place of com­plete ban have clearly lost."

With this de­ci­sion, In­dia joins coun­tries such as the U.S., Brazil and the Nether­lands in pass­ing laws that re­strict tele­com oper­a­tors from dis­crim­i­nat­ing In­ter­net traf­fic based on con­tent. It is a big blow to Face­book's In­ter­net sam­pler plan known as Free Ba­sics, which is cur­rently of­fered in about three dozen coun­tries in­clud­ing Kenya and Zam­bia, none of which come close to the scale or reach that could've been achieved in In­dia.

With 130 mil­lion Face­book users, 375 mil­lion peo­ple on­line, and an ad­di­tional 800 mil­lion-plus who aren't, In­dia is the big­gest growth mar­ket for the so­cial net­work, which re­mains blocked in China.

Face­book said in a state­ment that it's "dis­ap­pointed with the out­come." Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Mark Zucker­berg said the de­ci­sion won't cause Face­book to give up on con­nect­ing peo­ple to the In­ter­net in In­dia, "be­cause more than a bil­lion peo­ple in In­dia don't have ac­cess to the In­ter­net." The com­pany will con­tinue to fo­cus on its other ini­tia­tives, like ex­tend­ing net­works us­ing satel­lites, drones and lasers.

The rule will put an end to pre­paid plans that of­fered free ac­cess to ser­vices such as Google searches, the What­sApp mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion and Face­book. Th­ese pack­ages were pop­u­lar with low­in­come users by giv­ing them an in­cen­tive to get on­line, said Ra­jan Mathews, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the lobby group Cel­lu­lar Oper­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia. "Th­ese types of plans were be­ing used by oper­a­tors to meet the pol­icy goals of con­nect­ing one bil­lion peo­ple," Matthews said. "With th­ese gone, the govern­ment needs to tell us what al­ter­na­tives are there."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.