In a recent interview, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg defended Internet.org by claiming that it is not against net neutrality and both can co-exist. The truth is far too twisted for a simple statement like this to be able to make the issue go away. The media has been bombarding audiences with various angles on the debate about fair access to the web for a very good reason.
Internet.org includes Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Reliance, Microsoft and Opera Software as its partners. The project was launched in India in February following its release in a few other countries across the world. For those who can’t afford it, free access to the web through this service sounds like a good thing. But there’s a catch and all Mark Zuckerberg says is that some access to the Internet is better than none at all.
Let’s start with the fact that you can only get Internet.org in India if you are a Reliance customer. Does the phrase ‘unfair competition’ start ringing in your ears? It opens up sites dedicated to news, travel, jobs, sports, health and local government information. You have to use the Opera Mini mobile web browser or the UC Browser Android app to reach it. Forget about accessing it through Google Chrome or any other browser. As for searching the Internet, only Bing is delivered to users.
The number of services that have been made available for free because no data charges will apply, runs into 3 dozen or so. There’s Babajob (belonging to Reliance), Facebook, OLX, AccuWeather, Reliance Astrology, ESPN Cricinfo, Reuters Market Lite and more. Internet.org is not the charitable project Zuckerberg paints it to be, but a basket of select services offered by those who can afford to pay for visibility. And then there are some perfectly harmless websites like Wikipedia and Socialblood thrown in which can disguise this fact.
If the participating companies or Zuckerberg really want to save a part of their profits for a philanthropic cause such as Internet.org, why don’t they just foot the data bills for those who can’t afford to pay for access to the web, instead of only offering a limited selection of services? While the Facebook founder nobly declares to Hindustan Times that his initiative gives people access to jobs, opportunities and knowledge, he doesn’t explain why users should have to go to Babajob when a better alternative like Naukri is available.
No matter how hard Mark Zuckerberg tries to sell Internet.org as something that’s fair to the world’s poorer population, it’s nothing more than an advertisement by big companies trying to reach audiences easily without having to fight rivals. It kills innovation and fair competition, and is against net neutrality. NDTV, Cleartrip, NewsHunt, TimesJobs and Maharashtra Times have pulled out of the project.