Free Basics or No Entry sign?

Get your basics right about Free Basics

I did not intend to jump into this debate. But it’s so compelling that I could not resist. So instead of trying to create new arguments or parallel ones, I thought it may be a good idea to compile a list of resources for those who care about Net Neutrality and don’t understand Free Basics fully.

Come to think of it, the Free Basics logo looks so much like a No Entry sign. I guess that they won’t be getting quick entry into India anytime soon. More about the debate now, so here goes…

  1. Free Basics response by a caring Netizen (anonymous) — full article is here

Is Free Basics open to all ? It sounds so, but does not allow various types of media and video. Moreover, the technology architecture allows Facebook to intercept all data flowing to the user. This is as serious a privacy issue as any.

A developer cannot compete with Facebook in providing social network type services on Free Basics. What’s more, the compliance to Facebook’s developer terms, 8 weeks turnaround to resolve issues, etc. makes this effectively a tool that Facebook can use or misuse as they like.

On monetization, the truth is that these policies can change at will and nothing stops them from showing ads in future and in using the traffic data from Free Basics for deriving other marketing insights which can be “monetized” in another sense. And of all the arguments, saying that a few million Indians are too poor to afford basic Internet access is a big big distortion of facts whichever way you look at it. (P.S. did anyone tell Mark that Internet access charges in India are one of the lowest in the world?)

There’s a lot more to this which is well articulated in the original document here.

2. AIB does this parody on Free Basics. Facebook must have tried a lot to get it banned, except that it doesn’t own Youtube yet! This is a must watch, trust me. But then all AIB stuff is.

3. Karl Mehta wrote recently on Techcrunch so succintly that it does not require any more reading to understand the duality of Facebook’s approach. As he says, FB has spent more on promoting than it ever did for any other FB product. To quote from his post, Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of the Indian state Odisha, said: “If you dictate what the poor should get, you take away their rights to choose what they think is best for them.”

4. Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s Paytm has been at the very forefront, asking buyers to visit every time they use the Paytm site. He has gone ahead to call it jihad to save the Internet. I agree, if there must be a jihad in this world, then this is it. There hasn’t been another example of an entrepreneur lending so much weight that its not just their voice but their entire company’s weight behind the support. BTW, Paytm is the fastest growing e-commerce and payments company in India. That means it does weigh quite a lot!

5. IIT and IISc — the most revered Indian institutions that still carry a *lot* of credibility have called out Facebook’s ruse and a group of academics is stiffly opposing Free Basics as was widely reported in media.

Surely, such a widespread opposition should be a warning signal that Facebook should back off now or risk getting seriously alienated. No one is infallible and markets like India (no attempt here to compare it with China), while fairly open, are also fairly independent minded to stave off any attempt at forceful domination. If anybody needed that final, sealing argument in favor of Net Neutrality through a non-Facebook lens … Egypt just banned the Free Basics taking a cue from India. They do some things very very right in Africa.

So while all this talk about free Internet goes on, how does the Internet usage in India look like right now? Here’s some very easy to understand data broken up by gender, age, usage, and more.

Edit: added some more to this today, 1st January 2016

a) IAMAI supports net neutrality. It calls out need for shared infrastructure and/or non-discriminatory subsidized access instead of Free Basics model.

b) Adversing Standars Council ASCI has received a number of complaints against Facebook for its Free Basics ads.

c) Flipkart comes out vocally in support of Net Neutrality. Just like Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s support, this is huge.

d) TRAI itself has come out with an appeal to make your views known about differential pricing. If you haven’t done it yet, you still have a few days.

e) In a rare statement from a US giant, Microsoft India’s Bhaskar Pramanik has asked Facebook to differentiate between free internet for all and free access for first time users. Free Basics does not actually solve any problem, is his opinion.

f) No debate about Free Basics will be complete without the views of the firebrand Mahesh Murthy. In this piece, he completely debunks each of the 10 arguments that Facebook makes in its 100 crore ad blitzkrieg (oh, the print media isn’t complaining by the way).

P.S. — I will keep updating this post as more good curated news appear on this subject.

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