Slammed by critics for violating net neutrality, Facebook Opens Internet.Org To All Developers To Provide Free Internet To New Users
Facebook is planning to turn Internet.org into a platform, in order to provide free internet to new users. This step comes amidst criticism of the program’s “walled garden” approach to hand-picking services, and claims that it fails to comply with the rules of net neutrality.
Net neutrality garnered a lot of criticism particularly in India, where a zero rating program from operator Airtel fueled the issue. In response to the debate, Facebook end up losing a number of partners in India who withdrew from Internet.org. Today’s announcement has only added more fuel to the fire.
Facebook in a blog post said “Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities. To do this, we’re going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive.”
Facebook also said that from the Internet.org user’s point, they will be very soon able to go further down the existing limits of the portal and search for, and use, new third-party services. In other words, Internet.org will go from being a immobile portal to a basic (and free) layer of Internet.
The platform will be open to all prospective developers; however, there are three main rules that partners must stick to, Facebook said:
— “Services should encourage the exploration of the broader internet wherever possible.” — this looks fairly uncertain, but it tries to indicate that locking users inside your app is not ok.
— “Websites that require high-bandwidth will not be included. Services should not use VoIP, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos.” —
Facebook suggests since the operators are giving away resources for the project for free, so this would be a boundary to stop them from totally being taken to the cleaners.
Facebook and its operator partners for Internet.org have been blamed for taking a “king-maker” role since they select the services that are included in the free Internet portal, and likely to be promoted to millions of new users. This position of power gives selected companies an upper hand over their competitors; however, making the platform available would square that off, at least on paper.
Facebook added “We’re building an open platform, and anyone who meets these guidelines will be able to participate.”
Internet.org was first available in a small number of African countries; since then it has expanded to Asia with launches in Indonesia (population of 250 million) and India (population of 1 billion-plus) among others.
The open-platform approach may put an end to some of the criticisms of the program; however, it remains to be seen if companies and particularly young startups will show interest, invest time and resources to adjust their services to yet another platform. This is particularly applicable to India, where many startups are rising fast and already have their resources and teams extended without accumulating additional work.