A friend of mine recently argued “How does Free Basics violate the Net Neutrality? It looks like an excellent initiative, a charity to provide Internet to the underprivileged for free! Facebook is spending so much for the good of people! Isn’t it so?”
I wished to start with a series of points straight away, but decided on framing my words carefully, considering the impact Facebook brought upon my friend (and many people) by claiming to do charitable work with Free Basics.
First of all, let’s clarify the concepts, Free Basics by Facebook is an initiative to provide free basic Internet services to the people without any charges/free of cost. As good as it may seem, if carefully examined, one will observe the reasons why this concept is claimed to have violated the fundamental rights of freedom of Internet, otherwise termed as Net Neutrality.
Let us take a few points to understand how freedom of Internet is endangered:
- Free Basics allows our poors to access only a limited Facebook selected sites. It means Facebook will choose which sites to allow for Free Basics. Need I say more? Rings any bells? Directing users to visit a specific site, the primary breach of a Neutral Internet! This is what we fought for last year, isn’t it?
- A charity as it may seem, but Facebook will only allow itself and few other alliance websites. Probably, no access to Google, Tutorials Point etc. And how is that going to help people learn and grow? By poking each other on Facebook? I don’t think so!
- Taking into account the billions of dollars Facebook is making and if it really intends to use it for charity, why not allocate funds to allow 1 GB of Free Internet Data every month, to everyone of those underprivileged (some will argue it’s complex implementation) and allow them to explore every corner of Internet to learn and grow, instead of enslaving their access!? Yes, they are capable of doing that. But nope, they won’t.
- Let’s take the instance of Free Basics by Facebook on Reliance. Fine, Facebook doesn’t seem to have any monetary gains (at the moment) from this, but can same be said for Reliance? Obviously, Free access to Facebook without any data charges/cost will attract a large number of visitors to Reliance as compared to other companies, leading to a complex scenario. What if all companies start doing this, with different corporations (Flipkart with Airtel, like last year?)
- Facebook claims not paying the data charges under Free Basics to the network operator, but spends a large sum of money of Advertising this, along with operator name (Free Basics on Reliance, seen on TV?) which drives the customer directly to operator leading to gains for network operator. Indirect payment? Avoiding cash?
- It’s misleading people into polls, where everyone is going with the flow, sending petitions to TRAI, without realising their mistakes. Facebook will use this support to claim the demand from TRAI which is an equally harmful situation.
- It’s just a strategy to compete with their rivalry, Google, so as to narrow down a large number of people to Facebook (but restrict access to Google) resulting in maintained high stock prices and huge profits to the company.
Above all of this, let us not forget that the Cyber World is a free place, where access to every corner is indispensable. Maintaining the Freedom of Internet/Net Neutrality is crucial. No one corporation should be allowed to reap benefits by restricting/controlling/managing/supervising the access to the content of the Internet. A Free World, a free Internet.