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Zuckerberg's Not-so-neutral Net Neutrality

Zuckerberg is clearly furious at critics of his Free Basics plan, specially as he has implemented the plan in other countries. Nothing will explode -- the impact would only be gradually evident

Photo Credit : Reuters


I don't care whether Mark Zuckerberg got a big fat bear hug from Prime Minister Modi or a blessing from Neem Karoli Baba, I wouldn't want Facebook to control the next few millions of my fellow countrymen who get access to the internet.

On the verge of being a churlish bully and an overgrown kid having a tantrum, Zuckerberg can't seem to believe Indians are not keeling over in gratitude over his Free Basics plan. We who are already online are apparently so selfish that we don't mind "leaving a billion people behind".

Free Basics entails Facebook teaming up with ISPs like Reliance to offer free internet access to those who want it. But, what they get from the internet is decided by Facebook & Co. While it's perfectly true that even this restricted access may get first-time users life-changing opportunities to say, get a job, connect with others for all sorts of things, and gain no end of knowledge by reading the content that Facebook allows, who is Facebook to be the gateway to the internet for a billion unsuspecting people? On government spectrum. Facebook has no business controlling the experience of Indian citizens who will not know the difference or realise what choice has been taken away while seeming to offer "the whole internet".

Facebook and its partners cannot be faulted for pursing their business goals. They want users and the biggest chunk coming on to the internet happen to be in India. They want to offer their advertisers and investors more value. They want to collect more data on all of humanity and then see what they can do with that. Behind the scenes, Facebook is always experimenting with what its users are thinking and what they can be made to think.

As for the cellular providers -- they are hoping users of free services will switch to paid ones. Meanwhile, no one knows how they will make up for the loss of revenue from free access. Will they give slower and unworkable access to those using Free Basics? Will they slow down access to sites that are not supported by them? That's an unknown, but basically these companies will be able to control and shape the expeirence for those who have the right to the same experience as everyone else.

Zuckerberg is clearly furious at critics of his Free Basics plan, specially as he has implemented the plan in other countries. Nothing will explode -- the impact would only be gradually evident. The critics, including the Save the Internet initiative, are firm about their resistance to Facebook being the gatekeeper to the internet and point out that if the Free Basics plan was as innocent and philanthropic as it looks, why would Zuckerberg spend millions on advertising hard for it rather than using that money to subsidise internet access for those he would love to see online. The relentless advertising you see on television and the newspapers and online could bring several villages online for a long time to come.

Guilt-tripping critics by saying they want to keep the internet to themselves by spreading false claims against Free Basics, Mark Zuckerberg is stepping up the call for ordinary netizens to be on his side and help farmers get information, children get education, and poor people get jobs.

Net Neutrality refers to the concept that everyone should get the same internet. By giving free access to some and shaping it as they see fit, Facebook is violating Net Neutrality -- while all the time yelling from the rooftops that Facebook supports Net Neutrality. If that were the case, be netrual, Mr Zuckerberg, and get your users fair and square.