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In battleground India, Facebook faces an uphill task

  • India has become a battleground over the right to unrestricted
    Internet access, with local tech start-ups joining the front line against
    Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his plan to roll out free Internet to
    the country’s masses,
    Reuters said in
    a report.
  •  
  • The government has ordered Facebook’s Free Basics plan to be on hold
    • India has become a battleground over the right to unrestricted
      Internet access, with local tech start-ups joining the front line against
      Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his plan to roll out free Internet to
      the country’s masses,
      Reuters said in
      a report.
    •  
    • The government has ordered Facebook’s Free Basics plan to be on hold
      while it decides what to do.
    •  
    • The program, launched in around three dozen developing countries,
      offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, along with access to Facebook’s
      own social network and messaging services, without charge.
    •  
    • But critics say the program, launched 10 months ago in India in
      collaboration with mobile operator Reliance Communications, violates principles
      of net neutrality, the concept that all websites on the internet are treated
      equally. It would put small content providers and start-ups that don’t
      participate in it at a disadvantage, they say.
    •  
    • Also at stake is Facebook’s ambition to expand in its largest market
      outside the United States. Only 252 million of India’s 1.3 billion people have
      Internet access, making it a growth market for firms including Google and
      Facebook.
    •  
    • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said on Thursday it had
      received record submissions for a public consultation that precedes the
      rule-making process.
    •  
    • But more than three quarters of the 1.8 million comments submitted
      by users via Facebook will be disregarded as they did not follow the proper
      format, Trai Chairman Ram Sevak Sharma told a news conference.
    •  
    • In the past week, Facebook has urged users in India to send a
      response to the Trai both through its social networking platform and through
      mobiles by dialling a number that automatically generates a response on the
      users’ behalf.
    •  
    • However, the social media giant faces stiff resistance.
    •  
    • In a letter seen by Reuters,
      the heads of nine start-ups including Alibaba-backed Paytm and dining app
      Zomato have written to the Trai urging it to ensure Internet access was allowed
      without differential pricing.
    •  
    • The executives said in the letter, dated Tuesday, that differential
      pricing for Internet access would lead to a “few players like Facebook
      with its Free Basics platform acting as gate-keepers.”
    •  
    • “There is no reason to create a digital divide by offering a
      walled garden of limited services in the name of providing access to the
      poor,” they wrote.
    •  
    • Zuckerberg has got personally involved.
    •  
    • “We know that for every 10 people connected to the Internet,
      roughly one is lifted out of poverty,” he wrote in
      Times of India this week. “We know that for India to make
      progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the Internet.
    •  
    • “What reason is there for denying people free access to vital
      services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and
      women’s rights?”
    •  
    • A Facebook spokesman said the aim of the Free Basics initiative was
      to give people a taste of what the internet can offer. And Facebook has issued
      a series of full-page newspaper advertisements and billboard banners in an
      aggressive campaign to counter the protests.
    •  
    • “Free Basics is at risk of being banned, slowing progress
      towards digital equality in India,” said an advertisement published in
      Mumbai newspapers on Wednesday, urging Internet users to support the
      initiative.
    •  
    • Launched last year in Zambia, Free Basics, earlier known as
      Internet.org, has run in to trouble elsewhere on grounds that it infringes the
      principle of net neutrality. Authorities in Egypt effectively suspended the
      service when a required permit was not renewed after it lapsed on Wednesday.
    •  
    • The Trai has asked Facebook and Reliance Communications to suspend
      Free Basics until a final policy decision is made next month.
    •  
    • “In a democracy you have both sides – you have Facebook
      spending so much on the campaign and on the other side you have internet
      activists making their own efforts,” Trai’s Sharma told
      Reuters.
    •  
    • “Our job is to make a policy that is in the interest of telecom
      operators and end users in India.”
    •  
    • Trai has reportedly confirmed that the plan is on hold till the end
      of January.
    •  

     

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