news Friday, August 07, 2015 - 05:30
Free internet for everyone. Sounds like a dream? You have clearly not been up for a while. Facebook and Reliance offered “free internet” via their non-profit initiative Internet.org on February 10, 2015 in India. The enterprise had attracted close to 8, 00,000 users in the country until as far back as May. Recently however, users logging on to the social networking platform in India were subject to quite a persistent pop-up by Facebook. “Do you want India to have free basic internet service?” it asks on the header. It would be difficult to decline such an offer on behalf of the country but you really cannot and can only agree to it, or postpone your decision, as Facebook only allows you to do that. Here is a snapshot of Facebook’s message: If you agree, you are directed to another page, which mentions that “Soon, India will decide on the future of such services like Internet.org.” Here is a snapshot: India is trying to frame a policy on Net-Neutrality, with the latest Standing Committee meeting on the issue to take place four days from now. Interestingly, Facebook is also listed as one of the OTT players who will take part in the meeting along with Flipkart, Google, Microsoft and Cleartrip. After TRAI had asked for the people’s view on Net-Neutrality earlier this year, over a million mails found their way into their inbox in April, courtesy the Indian netizen. Internet.org especially came under severe scrutiny for Network Neutrality, the DoT panel itself saying that “collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable such gate-keeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged”. This was in reference to the companies offering only select websites for free. The argument for Net-Neutrality is that certain kinds of content should not be given preference over others and the DoT panel was critical of it. The recent garnering of support for the internet.org initiative is full of “misinformation” says Nikhil Pahwa, founder of MediaNama to TNM. Pahwa has made his stand for net-neutrality pretty clear and says that “there is a difference between internet.org and a ‘free internet’.” He mentions that the difference is not-at-all stark in the advertisements for Internet.org however and says that “Facebook is trying to create data in support of internet.org.” Pahwa mentions an SMS campaign run which was run by Facebook a couple of months ago which “asked people to either give a missed call to respond.”  Garnering a public consensus in support of the initiative is one thing, but straying away from its purpose, a different thing entirely. Here is an advertisement by Reliance for a “free internet”. Video of LOZ_sTvtY0A It is not difficult to identify the consumer in the above video. Pahwa mentions that the company is looking to “target the urban youth” in its campaign, and agrees that the companies may be looking at a trickle-down effect. A portion of Internet.org’s press release indicates their philanthropic intent, saying that it aims to make the “internet available to millions of people in India through the launch of the Internet.org app and free basic services.” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post that “Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.” Understanding who is “poor” when it comes to the internet is subjective but reports from May quote a Facebook spokesperson saying that “Internet.org is helping people connect to the Internet for the first time.” “About 20 per cent of Internet.org users were previously not active on mobile data and thus, Internet.org is bringing new people online,” they added. The argument can be turned around and it means that close to 80% of their users did have internet access in some shape, way or form before and the internet was not exactly brought to them courtesy Internet.org. With the government making its moves to try and tackle the problem, public consensus is not a bad way to drum up support, as the #SaveTheInternet campaign showed us earlier this year.  Mark Zuckerberg and Co. really want your vote. 

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