Net Neutrality in India is an issue that’s being talked about a lot lately. It all started when mobile carriers wanted to charge extra for VoIP calls. And then came Internet.org’s services were launched in the country exclusively on Reliance’s mobile network. Okay, that part was a threat to net neutrality, I agree. But a lot’s changed since then.
Enter Free Basics, Facebook’s latest venture which is also a part of Internet.org’s initiative, but somewhat different than the previous version that got so much hate. Free Basics seems to be fix the issues that we had with Internet.org’s app concerning net neutrality. When Internet.org’s services were launched, just one carrier in India was offering free access to it’s services, and only some exclusive apps and websites were included in the free access tier. But this has changed.
Free Basics allows anyone, literally anyone, to provide their services for free to billions of people around the world. The only catch is they have to meet certain requirements, which is okay because there needs to technical limitations on what kind of applications are possible to serve over mobile data for free when the carriers that opt in are incurring the costs. Also, all carriers are invited to provide Free Basics if they want, so there’s no question of exclusivity anymore. Source.
So, this is all sorted out. Things have changed, and Free Basics is not the Internet.org we protested some months ago.
Another issue I’d like to discuss is, while all of us are vocal on the issue and all of us have access to the Internet and it’s our opinions and our emails to TRAI that matter, what we are essentially forgetting is that the people who would benefit from Free Basics is not us. It’s the people living in rural areas, who have wondered what this Internet thing is and why people in urban areas seem to go crazy over it and say it provides an amazing means to knowledge and empowerment. About two months ago, I had been to a Hackathon where the theme was to build something that would empower people in rural areas. While brainstorming for ideas, everything we thought about was invalidated by just one argument: How would these people access Internet and use the stuff we build? So, if someone out there is providing free access to some services that would essentially make these people aware of what Internet actually is and how it can help empower them, I’m not going to stand in the way.
Look, Free Basics is not the Internet.org we protested against. I protested against Internet.org back then too. Free Basics is fundamentally different, it’s giving everyone a chance to come onboard to give a part of your services for free. And the carrier exclusivity is gone. So if your preferred carrier isn’t onboard with providing Free Basics, it’s because of the carrier’s choice and not of Free Basics.
Once these people in rural areas discover what kind of power Internet has, I’m sure they will pay to access all the amazing parts that aren’t included in Free Basics. The only thing that would come in the way then would be the ever increasing cost of mobile data. Maybe we should be emailing TRAI to do something about that. Mobile data costs almost twice than it did four years ago.