Facebook’s Internet.org hasn’t been as well received in India as it would have liked to be. The service was launched in the country in partnership with Reliance Communication and since then it has been mired in the net neutrality debate.
While Reliance Communication has stated that it has connected more than a million people to the internet via Internet.org, it is a mere drop in the ocean when you consider that india has a population of over a Billion. Recent reports released by TRAI also do no favours to Reliance Communication. As per those reports, the company lost 491,000 subscribers in the month of August. This dwindling number of subscribers is surely not helping Facebook as only those with a Reliance subscription can get access to its platform.
A lack of awareness could also be a reason why Internet.org hasn’t really taken off in India. A recent report by the New York Times mentions Sohail Khan, an owner of a perfume and cellphone shop in Mumbai. His shop displayed a banner advertising Internet.org, but when the reporter asked him details about the platform, he said that he had no idea. When he was explained what it was, he dismissed it saying, "The Reliance connection is very patchy,” before adding, “I would really have to sell the customer on it.”
However, Facebook has said that it will not be withdrawing Internet.org from India. Rather, it plans to open up its platform to even more telecom operators in the country. This may help more people in the country try out the platform which will inturn help spread awareness about Internet.org in the country.
There is of course, the net neutrality debate that internet.org has been entangled in along with Airtel’s Zero Rating Plans. Many feel that such services are against the idea of a neutral internet as it only offers selective websites. However, the company has maintained that the platform does not violate the principles of net neutrality. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said, “I support net neutrality because, at its core, it's about preventing discrimination. Net neutrality means we can use the services we want, and innovators can build the services we need.Connecting everyone is about preventing discrimination too.” In July however, a panel from the Department of Telecom (DoT) had said that it was fine with Airtel’s Zero Rating Plans, but opposed Facebook’s Internet.org.
In September this year, Facebook announced that it was renaming Internet.org to Free Basics and had made the platform live to all developers to include their content. However, it remains to be seen if the name change or the addition of more telecom operators will help Facebook’s platform growth in India.