Things you will need to know before you proceed-
What is http://www.internet.org?
What is net neutrality?
Now since we’ve got that out of the way let us proceed to answer the big question- Does Zuckerberg’s internet.org really go against net-neutrality?
India has recently seen a massive response and protest against laws that would take away the neutrality of the internet and the public rage makes sense. Anyone with basic economic literacy will know that this has very negative long term implications for our economy since it will deter small startups that cannot shell out money like the big corps can. The internet should be equal to all.
(The above case is the general belief, not my personal. As a Libertarian I oppose any sort of government regulation in private business. I do believe in a free and equal internet but there are better and more free-market forces that can achieve the same effect of ensuring equal internet for all. That’s a story for another time perhaps.)
Ah yes, internet.org. Sorry, I digress.
How does internet.org work? Facebook basically partners up with major telecom companies and local governments in order to provide FREE internet to those who can not afford it. But there’s a catch– People are provided with access to only a limited number of selected services and not the entire internet. (more on that as we progress)
What the critics are saying:
Companies and public alike are withdrawing support for internet.org since they believe that Facebook is going against the very principles of net-neutrality by providing free access to cherry picked services and not to the entire internet.
Critics of this claim that internet.org should provide the poor with complete access to the internet and doing otherwise is unfair to the rights of the poor who should have the freedom to access the internet unaltered.
Critics also say that Facebook is providing these cherry picked services for their own personal gains since the poor community will be able to access only their selected services thereby boosting Facebook’s and its partner’s own personal user base.
Critics have been saying that Facebook by choosing specific telecom providers for providing access to internet.org makes it unfair to others who are not on that company’s network.
Times of India went as far as saying- “If ISPs are allowed to raise revenues by manipulating online traffic, what’s to prevent them from charging a hefty premium from their customers in future?”
Let us now debunk these flawed criticisms, shall we?
Why internet.org is NOT anti-net neutrality:
Everyone who claims that Facebook should provide complete access to the entire internet to the poor population obviously has not considered the costs involved in doing so.
As Zuckerberg rightly said- “It’s too expensive to make the whole internet free. Mobile operators spend tens of billions of dollars to support all of internet traffic. If it was all free they’d go out of business. But by offering some basic services, it’s still affordable for them and it’s valuable and free for everyone to use”
As for how this does not go against net neutrality we must know that net neutrality means once you PAY for your respective bandwidth you must have the freedom to spend it on whatever websites/apps you would like.
Internet.org however, is FREE. This means that Facebook or any other party is not blocking the rights of the poor to access other websites/services. In fact it is spending private funds to provide free internet and trying to narrow the digital divide between the poor and the rest.
It is charitable enough of them to be investing in network infrastructure and providing these selective services free of cost to the poor. Yes, IF the poor were PAYING for this service and were denied their right to a free and open internet this would be against net neutrality but as we saw that is not the case here.
Also, so what if Facebook is providing only its partner’s services and blocking out the rest? This is their way of being able to afford to provide free and subsidized internet access to the people WHO WOULD NOT HAVE INTERNET OTHERWISE.
Without preferential treatment to a few services they would not be able to obtain the funds to bear the cost to implement something this cost intensive, let alone providing it for free.
Zuckerberg has openly said that- “We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected.”
In response to Times of India’s statement that if ISPs get to manipulate traffic they’ll end up imposing that on future customers as well, which is true. BUT, we are pushing for net neutrality laws against this manipulation for the general public who are PAYING for their access. The population that is being provided free internet should not be confused as paying customers because the costs of internet and server maintenance are recouped from paying customers.
Free users however do not pay money to these ISPs so there definitely needs to be some sort of sacrifice in order to generate funds to provide free internet to the poor, everyone says the poor deserve an open internet but no one wants to bear the cost.
Saying that Facebook should provide complete access to the internet or no internet at all is foolish talk.
It is like saying that kids who are starving in poverty stricken regions should either be given access to a buffet or should be provided no food at all.
Some internet is better than no internet, especially when it is free.