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Why ‘Free Basics’ is causing digital uproar

free basics

Technology

Why ‘Free Basics’ is causing digital uproar

Net Neutrality has recently gained a lot of digital uproar, where the basic concern is to make internet accessible to one and all. Any deviation is being designated as a violation of the digital fundamental right.

Only recently, the announcement made by Airtel —the Airtel Zero plan was received with much restrained sentiment by lakhs of internet users. For them internet is a medium which is sustained by factors like equality and democratic right to information. Even the dominant Airtel service users have loudly denied this new access protocols, in turn creating a lot of furor in the media.

Airtel’s Zero plan was to use its network as an additional marketing platform, giving a preferential treatment for websites that agree to pay a fee for this new platform. The plan failed to take off and even Flipkart which was initially on board had to withdraw from the new Airtel scheme.

Similarly, Facebook’s internet.org plan — with a noble intent to make internet accessible to all, was received with much skepticism. Its aim was to provide free basic internet services in India-making it more affordable for the masses. However, what was soon realized was that Zuckerberg’s internet.org which is in collaboration with 50 odd companies, e.g. Reliance Communications, will offer free access to only Facebook itself and the partnering platforms.

The underlying message was, and is, that the internet cannot be used for any kind of business gain. It is a neutral citizen platform and should be treated as such.

From the business stand point, it is not a typical win-win situation for an entrepreneur. Internet continues to be the most effective marketing tool for new emerging businesses. Then, why disturb this marketing equilibrium by giving a clear preference to those with deeper pockets. After all, we need adequate knowledge from every possible source of information.

The recent churn out in the media over Free Basics; (the new title for Facebook’s internet.org) has again raised the debate. While it has been introduced in many other countries, this new form of disrupting the concept of net neutrality in the Indian internet culture has again invited different views on the matter.

Facebook has indulged into heavy advertising campaign to help the audience understand the benefits of more and more people thronging to the internet platform. It claims that ‘Free Basics’ will do just that. It will help many people access free sites on their mobile, paving way for deeper penetration of internet use. However, there are internet critics, or the custodians of the net neutrality principal, who have again resisted this apparently new concept. The decision now rests with the Indian telecom regulator to settle the issue.

For the uninitiated, the Free Basics program is to be launched in association with Reliance Communications, giving complimentary access to a defined range of internet sites. It supports the Facebook’s theory of universal digital access.

However, what the company needs to better understand are the digital cultural nuisances of emerging markets like India. While it has good intentions to emulate the internet model in developing countries, there is still a concern about the access differential, which might result in discriminatory use of internet.


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