The intense ambition to penetrate internet service to new users has drawn giant companies like Facebook and Google to the developing countries where a considerable amount of people is still deprived of technology. As one of the world’s huge untapped market, India with 1.3 billion of population is now in focus of Facebook’s marketing campaign.
Always perceived as a mission of the company, the founder of Facebook Mr Zuckerberg believes that internet is the key to world’s connectivity especially in term of education. Seeing an opportunity to provide internet access through the cheapest device like mobile phone, the company has become a partner with a local telecom operator Reliance Communications providing free access to Indian subscribers in need.
Here came to the starting point of Free Basics project. Free Basics was originated by Internet.org which was an internet service provider under Facebook Company. The project would allow one billion approximately of Indian population to expose themselves online – it might the first time for some of those.
However, the project does not receive positive response from the Indian society including the government as it seems. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently asked Free Basics to halt temporarily due to the issue of net neutrality violation.
According to savetheinternet.com, net neutrality refers to a guiding principle stating that internet users must be granted the right to communicate freely online. In other words, internet service providers are obligatory to provide users freedom of speech and open internet access without discrimination against any contents or applications particularly.
The point that making Facebook’s internet service against this principle is due to a condition of its “free” access. Indian internet browsers will be allowed to go online for free only in the specific sites comprising of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, Bing, AccuWeather, as well as a number of shopping and health sites – 30 sites in total. Obviously, the project will give Facebook and its counterpart websites with a huge competitive advantage against its rivals. The project, therefore, is being widely criticised by social activists as violating the basic principle of internet utilisation.
The Times of India reported that TRAI was questioning whether it was appropriate for a telecom operator to offer different pricing for different types of contents. Likewise, Quartz India stated that critics were arguing that Facebook and its telecom sole partner was acting like a gatekeeper for the poor people to access internet. India is a country where internet service is poorly slow and unreliable.
The Facebook’s CEO, later, argued that the campaign does not violate the net neutrality since it does not block mobile carriers to access any alternative websites. Even through, Facebook is being opposed by Indian government, so far Internet.org has collaborated with its social partners in over 30 developing countries covering Asia Pacific, Latin America, African continent and certain countries in the Middle East, to operate a campaign with the same objective to provide free internet access.