Volunteers of net neutrality advocacy group Save The Internet (STI) addressed an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, following his Townhall Q&A session at IIT Delhi. The letter raises the issue of Internet.org being in violation of net neutrality principles.
During the Townhall session at IIT Delhi, Zuckerberg had reiterated Facebook’s commitment to net neutrality, but also expressed his support for zero-rating plans. Proponents of net neutrality have, however, remained sceptical of Facebook’s efforts. In its letter to Zuckerberg, STI volunteers said, “It is a matter of distress that Facebook, through its Internet.org platform and in its lobbying on regulatory consultations, has sought to undermine Net Neutrality in India and also increasingly questioned the motives of more than a million Indians who have participated in consultations organised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as well as the Department of Telecom.” In the letter, STI observed that Internet.org provides a limited representation of the internet, which is curated by Facebook and “primarily benefits those who are selected for the platform.” It has also taken issue with the ‘.com’ domain of the FreeBasics website, which it believes is an indicator of Facebook’s intention to monetise the platform later on.
Zuckerberg had projected Internet.org as an philanthropic endeavour to provide internet connectivity to the masses. “We all have a moral responsibility for people who do not have access to internet. We should not end up hurting people who do not have access to the Internet,” he said at the Q&A on wednesday. STI has challenged this very idea, noting that expanding the number of internet users is not the problem, but improving the infrastructure is. “Our concern with Internet.org/Free Basics is that it will create a new digital divide: those who access Facebook and its partner services, and those who access the open Internet,” the letter further said. Save The Internet believes that Facebook will gain a competitive advantage with the usage data gathered on the other websites that are on the Internet.org platform. Those websites are also restricted from disclosing the usage statistics of their site by Internet.org users. According to STI, these policies go against the spirit of net neutrality and the idea of an open internet.
The letter has urged Zuckerberg to explore ways of providing internet access without restrictions or limiting the choice of users. It noted that Facebook itself is the beneficiary of an open and neutral internet. In the letter, STI also opposed zero rating by quoting Tim Berners-Lee who called it economic discrimination, “Economic discrimination is just as harmful as technical discrimination, so ISPs will still be able to pick winners and losers online.”