Point by Point Rebuttal to Mark Zuckerberg’s TOI article in support of Free Basics in India
Before blindly supporting ” Free Basics ” kindly get your facts clear guys. For those who don’t know what this is about: – Free Basics in India is a version of “internet.org” that is being promoted in India. The idea is to make available cost-free access to restricted set of internet services to poor people. There has been a large backlash against this in India, and Mark is rather surprised.
Harshath J.R. response to Mark’s arguments in support of Free Basics in India
This is my response to Mark Zuckerberg’s Times of India blog article on 28th of December. In this, I’m not going to explain to the people of India why we must choose a truly free internet over Free Basics. I want to explain to Mark why he’s getting a backlash, and perhaps poke a few holes in his article. Now, Mark, this is for you.
You open your article by presenting Free Basics as analogous to other basic free services of a society like schools, libraries, health services and so on. But Mark, your analogy is flawed. A library aggregates AS MANY books as it can, and a hospital provides AS MUCH basic healthcare as possible. In fact, good public healthcare is the more socially developed countries (UK and many countries from mainland Europe). They key underlying principle is “as much as possible”. On the other hand, Free Basics provides as little as possible to qualify as an internet service. A real “free basic internet” would put in more effort, and definitely provide access to the real internet — for a restricted internet is not internet at all. You’ve mentioned before that it is not cost-effective to provide the real internet for free, but that is also not true. There are existing models of enabling internet access, like Aircel providing cheap and unrestricted internet. If all you have is philanthropy in mind and you do not care which conduit helps people out of poverty, I suggest you get behind one of them than peddle your own brand. And even if you must provide your own solution, don’t blame it on the money. Use some of the $42b you’ve set aside for charity.
Another problem is the power dynamics of your approach to providing internet access. With Free Basics, you hope to be the liberator of poor people from their poverty, but in fact in fact are perceived as a dictator, or worse, a tyrant. When helping the vulnerable, you can never be in a position where you can take from them. Free Basics puts you in exactly that position. You provide internet access to these people, but strip away their freedom to access any service they want (while ironically calling it “Free” Basics). It also puts you in a position where you can dictate and control their access to any new services. More than that, it paints you as disrespectful of these people’s freedom and dignity simply because they are poor.
Mark, if you know about our history, you’ll know that up until around 1990, India’s entrepreneurial sector was subjected to heavy licensing and permit restrictions. However in the 90s, we realized that an unfettered innovation landscape will help our country grow, and permits and licenses are only holding us back. A bunch of deregulations were implemented, and we’ve never looked back.
The same is true with internet. An unrestricted internet is the primary requirement to foster uninhibited innovation in online services. Gatekeepers and restrictions are bound to put a damper on them, and a model like Free Basics sets a very dangerous precedent, especially in India. It allows major ISPs to put up similar walled garden schemes, and to differentially charge for different services. All of this strongly reminds us of an era when our country was a lot less free and progressive. There have already been attempts by our existing ISPs at disrupting our freedom with schemes like zero-rating, and Airtel famously trying to change its customers separately for Skype. We’re in the middle of a battle for freedom on the internet, and Free Basics is caught in the crossfire. And we cannot risk allowing Free Basics in the midst of it all, for we cannot risk progress even for progress’s sake.
This also brings me to the subject of net neutrality. I don’t know what definition of net neutrality you go by, but you’re either being ignorant or disingenuous when you repeatedly claim that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality. Net neutrality simply means that an internet provider provides you access to the entire internet, and no content is discriminated against. Instead, Free Basics provides access to a restricted version of internet, while simultaneously becoming the gatekeeper to success of new services. It places barriers on free and permission-less innovation on the internet — also a key tenet of net neutrality. This makes Free Basics inherently not neutral.
Lastly — you observe that there is “surprisingly” a debate on Free Basics in India. Surprisingly? Do I detect a tinge of condescension here? I should think that the debate is, if anything, most unsurprising. You’re talking about introducing a model of internet that is hotly debated around the world — in a country that possibly has the most technologically savvy people! I’m sure that the debates on net neutrality in the US (“Music Freedom” by T-mobile, the Netflix-Comcast fast internet lanes saga, etc) did not surprise you. Neither should this. And if you still think it is surprising, I recommend you introspect about your subconscious attitudes towards the backward and the poor.
People please stop sending message to TRAI about Free Basics. Digital Equality is exact opposite of Net Neutrality. Do not fall into the trap of facebook’s emotional and misleading advertisements. Please go to the website www.savetheinternet.in to understand the concept of net neutrality and to know why Free Basics of facebook is harmful for our country.
You can also send message to TRAI, and your local MP about this issue. The emails are pre-drafted on the savetheinternet website and sending it hardly 15 seconds.
Below is the post by Harshath J.R. on his facebook timeline: