After meeting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as part of a high power delegation which also included BJP’s Anurag Thakur and Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, who has been a vocal advocate of net neutrality, on Thursday said he got the sense the social network had made changes that aligned it more with net neutrality.
“What they have explained about Free Basics implies they have changed things. They have changed things in two ways — made it open and not restrictive so that anybody can get on the platform; and explained that their zero rating is not for commercial consideration and was not part of any quid pro quo,” he told IndianExpress.com. He added that this makes it very different from Airtel’s zero rating, which for instance is taking money from the websites. “In that sense they have made a significant move towards what I believe is net neutrality.”
Facebook’s Free Basics platform under Internet.org has come in for criticism in India for allowing free access to only certain websites and that too on one service provider. Critics have said this “walled garden” violates the principles of net neutrality.
Chandrashekhar who said Zuckerberg answered with a great degree of candour, said he was absolutely clear and precise to “all the tough questions relevant to Facebook India”. “There was nothing vague or an attempt to hide behind anything. That is very impressive,” the MP said, adding that it was clear that Zuckerberg is very tuned in to the debate and discourse in India on Digital India and net neutrality. “The fact that they have made changes to Free Basics and Internet.org to be much more transparent and open and closer to the definition of net neutrality in the sense that it cannot be gate keeping is clearly a very good revelation for us,” he said.
Zuckerberg spoke with the delegation about the future of the Internet, the desire to maximise investment in India on satellites and content creation.
“I have met many stars from the Silicon Valley over my career and the one thing that was my biggest takeaway was his absolutely refreshingly fearless candour even when posed with the tough and aggressive questions.”
However, Chandrashekhar said his definition of net neutrality has not changed and will not be supportive of any entity that tries to gate keep the internet. “Of course, we have to see the details and the fine print. But I came away clearer that what they are offering was much different from what the telcos are offering through zero rating.”
The MP said when he raised the point that net neutrality is about Internet consumer rights and is relevant to those who are online today as well as those who will be online tomorrow, Zuckerberg’s response was that there was no commercial consideration to their zero rating and hence it was not violative of any consumer rights.
He said Facebook’s willingness to listen to the debate in India, and make changes was in contrast to the call drops controversy were service providers were still in denial. “This is really a lesson for companies anywhere that at the end there are consumers whose voice who have to listen to to create a sustainable long-term business.”