Facebook is mustering support of its users in India to defend its platform Internet.org, with just a week left for public comments on a DoT panel’s report, which says free Internet services like that of the social network’s violate net neutrality principle.
Facebook has started the public campaign to make a case before lawmakers for allowing free Internet access platforms like Internet.org.
Facebook users in India are getting a message on their profile pages which seeks their opinion on having free basic online services in the country.
“Do you want India to have free basic online services? The mission of Internet.org is to get everyone in the world online. Show your support for free basic online services in India,” says the message, which pops up on a Facebook user’s homepage.
“Soon India will decide on the future of services like Internet.org. Please comment on this post today to help us tell your MPs that you want to connect everyone in India. ?#?connectindia? ?#?connecttheworld,” the message says further.
Many MPs, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and most of cabinet ministers, have their Facebook pages.
By end of June, Facebook had over 125 million users in the country.
The DoT panel’s report on net neutrality, which has been placed on MyGov website for public comments till August 15, has received just over 500 views against over 10 lakh messages that were sent to regulator TRAI through an online campaign in support of implementing ideal net neutrality in India.
Net neutrality implies that equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic and no priority be given to an entity or company based on payment to content or service providers such as telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory.
The DoT panel has opposed projects like Facebook’s Internet.org which allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges. The data charges are borne by the websites or service provider.
Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative which aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm as well as mobile operators. In India, it had tied up with Reliance Communications.
The panel discussed Facebook’s Internet.org and said that until April 2015, Internet.org users could have free access for only a few websites, and Facebook’s role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were on that list was seen as violating Net neutrality.
The panel said that “collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable such gate-keeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged”.
While Facebook defended the platform saying the initiative was a “gateway” to provide low-cost access to the Internet.
The neutrality debate flared up in the country after telecom major Airtel launched a platform, Airtel Zero, that would allow free access to some websites on its network.
The platform drew flak from public specially IT companies. They termed it a discouraging move for start-up Internet based firms who don’t have financial muscle and could check growth of Internet eco-system in the country.
The panel however has favoured allowing of zero-rating platforms, like Airtel Zero, but with a rider that operators should take prior permission of telecom regulator Trai to launch it or take action against such plan if they are founding violating principle of net neutrality, sources said.