Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today made renewed pitch for its controversial Free Basics Internet service in yet another marketing blitz saying it protects net neutrality.
Facebook’s proposed Free Basics plan allows customers to avail of services like education, health care and employment listings through apps specially designed for this platform on their phones without a data plan but does not allow access to many services such as YouTube, Gmail, Google or Twitter. Zuckerberg appeared on a video to personally promote Free Basics and also wrote a personal appeal in one of the leading newspapers.
While Free Basics allows users to access a small number of Web services without charge, it has been criticised by some for alleged violation of the principle of net neutrality, a concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
“We believe that connectivity is a human right and that getting connectivity for the world is one of the fundamental challenges of our generation. When people are connected, we can accomplish some pretty amazing things.
“We can get closer to the people that we care about, we can get access to new jobs and opportunities and ideas. We can receive education and healthcare and communication and access to new services,” he said in the video post.
He said connectivity can’t just be a privilege for some of the rich and powerful and needs to be something that everyone shares and an opportunity for everyone. “I hope you will join us in doing this.”
Keen to tap the world’s largest offline population, Zuckerberg in an opinion piece in the daily compared Free Basics to a library—which houses only a selection of books—as well as to public healthcare and education.
“Everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic Internet services,” he wrote.
Critics, however, said Free Basics violates the principal of net neutrality by offering some services for free, giving them an advantage over competitors. Also, Facebook acts as a gatekeeper for Free Basics, permitting some services, while rejecting others. Telecom regulator TRAI has already asked Reliance Communications, Facebook’s Free Basics partner in India, to suspend the services temporarily.
It has also sought comments by December 30 on a consultation paper on allowing service providers to charge different pricing for data usage on websites, applications and platforms.
Zuckerberg, whose Facebook is spending billions of dollars on projects to deliver the Web to under-served areas via drones, satellites and lasers, said India’s progress depended on providing Web access to the one billion Indians without it.
“This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics,” he wrote in the Times of India. “If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the Internet today.”
Writing the piece under the title ‘Free Basics Protects Net Neutrality’ and that the service ‘is a bridge to the full Internet and digital equality’, he said, “Who could possibly be against this?”
This comes on top of full page advertisements that Facebook has run in newspapers to bolster support for Free Basics.