Net Neutrality Row : India leaving Mark Zukerberg's Internet.org

Indian Internet companies are pulling out of Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project for offending the net neutrality guidelines.

Internet.org is a project which was initiated by Facebook and seven other telecom companies to make internet available to every person on the earth and to stay connected. The project started in August 2013 and it has reached eight countries including India. In India Internet.org was launched in February 2015, here Reliance Communications was in partnership with Facebook and this project provided 37 websites free including the Facebook access to all its users.

Let us understand about this Net Neutrality: It is a regulation which requires the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as well as the government to treat all the Internet data equally without any discrimination or charging deferentially on the basis of user, site, platform, application, content and mode of communication.

What would happen in absence of Net Neutrality: Without net neutrality, it will be harder for users to communicate online because then ISPs would be able to devise new schemes that will charge users more for access and services. Further these ISPs can even block content and speech which don’t match their interest and they can also reject apps which compete with their own offerings. The ISPs can also prioritize Web traffic.

How would Internet.org affect the Net Neutrality: The real problem emerged when Indian Telecom companies like Airtel announced their Airtel Zero plan. This plan proposed that the smartphone app makers would tie up with Airtel and hence all users of Airtel will have a free access to these apps. Airtel users can  download and access these apps at zero data charges and thus enjoy their favorite online tasks (e.g. entertainment, shopping) for free; even at zero mobile balance.

This would indirectly mean that Internet freedom is at stake, the telecom companies will allow the usage of those businesses which are registered with them and for other free services users might end up paying money. For eg: Airtel can promote its own video app Wynk and hence users can have free access to Wynk and for YouTube access they might have to pay extra money. Similarly in case of Reliance which already promotes Internet.org, users have free access to BabaJob and if these users need access to naukri.com they have to pay money. Reliance Internet.org users also need to pay extra amount for accessing Google!!

After a much viral online battle, finally Indian companies have realized that it is not a good idea to allow total Internet control to Facebook wherein it will not only decide as to who can have access to Internet but also interfere as to what content users can view. This is pure discrimination and is against the net neutrality guidelines which states that Internet is equal for everyone.

Further, many Internet users are also against this project because it gives preference to certain sites and apps as per the wish of the Telecom provider and for the rest of Internet access users will have to pay from their pockets. Users are completely dissatisfied with this selective offering which they feel is breaching the internet freedom.

Finally, Flipkart took the firm stand to exit from the Airtel Zero platform which was followed by Cleartrip, NDTV, Newshunt and the Times Group who have confirmed that they will be withdrawing from the Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. Further, The Times Group has confirmed to pull out TimesJobs and Maharashtra Times from the Internet.org initiative if its competitors namely India Today, NDTV, IBNLive, NewsHunt, and BBC pull out and NDTV’s Co-Founder and Executive Co-Chairperson, Prannoy Roy also tweeted that his company has decided to withdraw from this Internet.org initiative because even they support the net neutrality.

In a recent discussion when Mark Zuckerberg was asked to comment regarding the conflict, he said: “For people who are not on the internet, though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programs like Internet.org are essential and can coexist with net neutrality regulations.”

As per Huffington post: The service which was suppose to connect the world via internet has landed up creating “conflict of interests” by promoting some sites more than others!!!!