Zuckerberg Is Disappointed with TRAI’s Ruling, but the Company Has Not Given up Hope.
Who could ever know that philanthropy could garner so much of criticism? When Mark Zuckerberg announced his Internet.org project which was an initiative to bring internet to people who do not have it, he would have hardly imagined the uproar it could create. His latest attempt to make the world a better place has met with a lot of disapproval by the Telecom Regulatory Authority in India (TRAI) which is strongly in favor of net neutrality. This brought an end to the free internet project in India where the telecom regulators agree on the fact that all websites and applications must be treated equally by internet service providers.
What is the Free Basics Project?
The Free Basics Project aimed to offer free access to a set of websites. It included Facebook as one of the free sites as well. Facebook’s CEO saw this as an admirable project which will yield great goals. Zuckerberg aimed at expanding internet access in developing countries. Facebook Free Basics provides users the ability to access certain websites like Wikipedia, BBC, health sites, weather report and undoubtedly, Facebook.
These websites which are available through Free Basics are lightweight versions of the original website so that they can load without a lot of delay and so that they can work well on 2G as well as 3G networks.
Acclamation and Criticism
Facebook’s attempt to provide internet to those who do not have it was a great step however, where the company stumbled was the fact that the websites that the people had access to was chosen by Facebook. This seemed to be authoritarian.
While the underlying aim of the project is commendable, the project definitely requires a face lift so that it does not look like the project has hidden motives of self-interest. People who are against the current free internet project want it to provide a level playing field for all businesses.
TRAI’s new regulations put a ban on differential pricing for data services. This means that small businesses will find it easier to compete with giant companies like Facebook.
Why Did It Fail in India?
Free Basics became popular among users when it was launched in India. While the project’s goal was to provide internet to those who do not have it, most of the Free Basics users were not first time users. Most of the users already had a plan and used Free Basics as a way to access Facebook when they ran out of data.
Many of Facebook’s carrier partners ended up using Free Basics as a way to retain customers by providing them free access to Facebook while users who were using a different service provider had to pay for using Facebook.
At this time, what India needs is more connectivity. Facebook may have approached the problem in the wrong way. This is why Zuckerberg may have found less success in his initiative.
Zuckerberg was disappointed by the decision taken by TRAI because he saw internet.org as a project which will gradually bring internet to everyone in the world. It may have been more successful if Zuckerberg provided limited free access to the entire internet instead of providing unlimited access to a restricted internet.
The Road Ahead
Zuckerberg has not given up hope, and India is not the only country which had access to Free Basics. It is available in 36 countries. India was always an essential market for Zuckerberg which explains the visit to India to promote Free Basics, however, it is not the only place where the company has its free internet project. According to Facebook, Free Basics has brought the internet to over 19 million people who would not have been able to afford internet services.
The initiative which had started as internet.org was soon renamed as Free Basics so that it may not sound like it intended to displace the internet. When the Indian telecom regulators had issued a temporary ban on Free Basics, Zuckerberg tried to strengthen as he mentioned that Free Basics was an initiative to empower people without internet and Facebook did not have any commercial interests in it.
In response to TRAI’s ruling, Facebook says, “We will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings”