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Free Basics by Facebook and Reliance is on the top of the discussions in the new year. Have a look on some of the aspects.

Free Basics: Old Fraud,New Name

Newsclick interviewed Prabir Purkayastha, Chairperson of the Society for Knowledge Commons, on Facebook’s Free Basics and TRAI’s Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing for Data Services. Prabir said that differentiating internet services in terms of content will be a violation of the basic principle of Network Neutrality. He added that zero rated services are but meant for ‘walled gardens’. Internet Service Providers should not act as gatekeepers for content generators. Purkayastha said that the consultation paper by TRAI focuses on tariff issues rather than safeguarding the principles of Net Neutrality. ‘Free Basics’, the renamed package by Facebook would only lead to discrimination and will curb innovation and creativity.

Listen the conversation published by newsclik on Dec29,2015 –

It is not Free, it is a Scam!

SHULANDA SINGH writes on pc-tablet.co.inEarlier called Internet.org, Free Basics is a misleading campaign by Facebook that is aimed at offering access to a limited number of Facebook-partnered websites and apps free of cost to the user. This campaign is promoted by Reliance in few states of India, namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Goa under the name Internet.org. However, it was furiously opposed by Technology experts and analysts for a good cause.

To begin with, the name Internet.org indicates that Facebook considers itself as The Internet, which is not even close to the services it offers. Even the father of Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, suggests users not to entertain scams like Free Basics.

Firstly, Free Basics is Internet.org, carefully wrapped in a fairytale name. While we are on the topic, Free Basics name itself is fraud. It is not free! Only those websites and apps that are partnered with Facebook will be accessible for free. If you want to access any other site, you will have to pay Facebook. Now we just have one question. Facebook is supposed to teach the unaware the actual use of Internet. But how is Facebook planning to do that when it doesn’t want to let its users decide what is best for them? Ironically, Facebook “accidently” asked people outside India to vote for Free Basics and send emails to TRAI. It shows how impatient and greedy people at Facebook really are.

Facebook also launched a print and digital media campaign “Connected India,” asking users to give a missed call, automatically sending a message to TRAI in support of Free Basics. Facebook is now asking its users to send an e-mail to TRAI supporting “essential internet for all.” It lays the claim to have gained support from 3.2 million of its 130 million users in India. However, according to a few net neutrality volunteers, many of Facebook’s 3.2 million supporters for Free Basics were non-Indians. (Source: Business Standard).

Facebook then launched various campaigns in India using social media websites as well as every Billboards and advertising screens. Zuckerberg expected this to be a cakewalk before the unexpected protest he faced. He later thrown out agitated statements to Media saying he is providing free Internet to billions of Indians who are uneducated and still deprived of Internet.

Who are all against Free Basics?

  • Father of Internet laid strong beliefs against Free Basics in an interview.
  • “Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm, the wallet turned e-commerce firm has called Facebook’s actions as similar to “East India company.”
  • IIT, IISc scientists, protest against Facebook’s Free Basics.
  • FSMI Hyderabad launches a campaign against Free Basics. The campaign also talked about alternatives to Free Basics, such as FreedomBox — a project that combines smartphone computing with a wireless router to create a network of personal servers and protect privacy during daily life.
  • Writing in the Hindustan Times, India’s Save The Internet coalition maintained that “Internet.org is Zuckerberg’s ambitious project to confuse hundreds of millions of emerging market users into thinking that Facebook and the internets are one and the same.”
  • Naveen Patnaik, CM, Odisha, said: “If you dictate what the poor should get, you take away their rights to choose what they think is best for them.”
  • Technology analysts Prasanto K Roy believes that Free Basics is good for Zuckerberg to consider India as a “great business opportunity” and pick up his next billion Facebook users.    Read more from Sulandana..Click here.

Five net neutrality myths busted

SMARIKA KUMAR is a legal researcher who was until recently with  the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.She writes in thehoot.org : “Neither side in the debate fully supports the public interest in its entirety, only partially.”

Last year was a remarkable year for popular debates on internet-related issues in India. It saw the public outrage against Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 culminate in a well-reasoned judgment delivered by the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional. The year also saw popular media discussion on the fraught issue of net neutrality snowball. Whereas in February 2015 the average person would not even have heard of “net neutrality” or “internet.org” (as Free Basics was called then), by December 2015 a large segment of internet users had a strong opinion on both schools of thought. And all this, thanks to a certain kind of media engagement with the issue which managed to break numerous hard-held myths about media debates. Here are a few of them:

Myth: People are interested in the sensational, not the technical.

Reality: People are extremely interested in the technical, if pitched right.

What is significant is that something which started as a rather technical, regulatory policy discussion has, within the short space of one year, managed to catch public attention in ways that technical issues are not thought to do. In August 2014 when Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) like Airtel demanded in an industry meeting that TRAI regulate competing Over-the-Top (OTT) services like Whatsapp so that what they deemed to be a “fair” regulatory environment could be established, people did not care less.

But come December 2014 and later, when Airtel decided to “fairly” charge extra for VoIP/Whatsapp usage, people had an opinion on numerous technical matters of regulation like licensing, zero-rating and net neutrality. This proves that people are interested in technical matters and not just the sensational, as soon as they are able to connect the impact of the technical upon their everyday lives.

If the media can pitch complex technological issues in a way that makes them relevant to ordinary people, as the savetheinternet.in and John Oliver’s video segment on net neutrality could successfully do, they will find that people always want a say in technical policy regulation – nobody wants to be left out of technical decision-making. When important governance issues fail to be debated publically, the reason often lies in the media’s inability to explain technical issues in a way which feels relevant to common people, and not the latter’s disengagement with technical matters. It is the former issue which the media should aim to address, rather than dismissing the public as stupid. The public is only as stupid as the writer is.


Myth: The public is wrongly informed and uninterested.

Reality: The public is imperfectly informed and is willing to fight for its interests.

The TSP conglomerate has been baffled at why so many regular internet users chose to respond to the TRAI’s original Consultation Paper of April 2015. The Cellular Operator’s Association of India (COAI) went as far as to say that traffic management data and techniques should not be shared with the consumer-citizen because such complex technical matters would only add to their confusion (page 15).

This is bullshit for the simple reason that we live in a democracy, and the very point of a democracy is governance by people for themselves. And such governance can only happen when common people are well-informed. The decades since the Second World War have increasingly seen a certain kind of reliance on “expertise” in deciding governance questions at the expense of democracy. This is not to say that seeking an “expert” opinion is in any way bad, but if such opinions are deployed in ways whereby the public does not comprehend what technological design it is consenting to, it can hardly be called a democratic process.

“There is little consensus in the popular media yet about what constitutes this elusive ‘net neutrality’. “


What is heartening is that once certain expert contributions to the net neutrality debate were made comprehensible to the public in an accessible language and formats, people were more than willing to participate through somewhat obscure governance mechanisms such as public consultations to fight for what they understood as their interest.

That being said, the net neutrality debate might not have been explained to people in all its complexity within the popular media, but even with the imperfect information they had, the public responded most enthusiastically, not cynically, and what else can be more hopeful for the future of a democracy?


Myth: Nobody opposes net neutrality.

Reality: Net neutrality is an improperly defined concept in public debates.

What is net neutrality? Who knows! One theory is that it provides a level playing field for both established internet companies and new entrants. Does this mean that companies which send out spam should have an equally level playing field? And if not, how does one create a regulatory design which minimizes only spam and not legitimate internet content? Will such a design be a violation of net neutrality? Opinions differ. Another floating understanding of net neutrality seems to imply equal internet access to everyone. But people who pay for a different plan also access different speeds of internet. Is that a violation of net neutrality? Opinions differ.

It is all because there is little consensus in the popular media yet about what constitutes this elusive “net neutrality.” Sure there is a certain understood definition for “net neutrality” among techies, but that often falls apart when faced with different kinds of business interests. Anyway why should the public choose either definition when it can carve out its own? It is in the nature of definitions and concepts to evolve with the needs of people and when they fail to do so, they are clearly dud concepts.

“As citizens, we need to decide for ourselves how to define net neutrality in a way which aids maximization of a gamut of public interests, including fair competition, low pricing, choice and access.”


The upshot is that net neutrality is, happily, an evolving concept in public debates. But confusingly, this can also cause all sorts of communication gaps. So while TSPs like Airtel, Facebook and Savetheinternet.in all say they support net neutrality, they mean quite different things by net neutrality, with each claiming that theirs is the “true” understanding of net neutrality.

COAI’s version of net neutrality manages to support zero-rated apps by defining itself as: “No denial of access and absence of unreasonable discrimination on the part of network operators in transmitting internet traffic.” (page 9). This contradicts Savetheinternet.in’s version of net neutrality which is about preventing ISPs from providing a competitive advantage to any internet service/app either through pricing or Quality of Service, which rings the death knell for zero-rated apps. Facebook’s understanding of net neutrality respects this fair competition in general but makes an important exception for “essential” internet apps designed “for the poor.” As citizens, we need to decide for ourselves how to define net neutrality in a way which aids maximization of a gamut of public interests, including fair competition, low pricing, choice and access.


Myth: Free Basics will improve internet access in India.

Reality: It is difficult to predict without any hard, empirical data corresponding to the Indian context.

Briefly, the state of unbiased public research into user habits and the numbers associated with how people access the internet in India is in a shambles. There exists a 2015 study conducted by Amba Kak of the Oxford Internet Institute in this matter, which tells us that low-income consumers in Delhi want to access the entire internet when they do. Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama has used this study to back the claim that Indian users do not want Facebook Free Basics. But conversely, this study can also be used to claim that Indian users will reject Free Basics, and therefore there is no need for an additional net neutrality regulation from TRAI because the market will correct itself. Possibly.

My point is that in the absence of specific data, it is hard to say for sure which direction potential Indian users of Facebook Free basics will turn – will they use it, will they not, will they like to use it, will it improve access given how Indian users utilize the internet and given what they expect of the internet? We do not know for sure. What we as the public can only do is make educated guesses with the small sample of publically available data. And upon such educated guesses, we can choose to frame policy. Such opinions, coming from either Facebook or COAI, or savetheinternet.in then become a matter of personal inclinations in historical interpretations and risk aversions.

“What do we want to do in the absence of data? The most obvious response to this is fund the creation of public data on the issue. “


It is in this spirit that the UPenn-based internet academic, Christopher Yooadvocates waiting to see how differentially priced markets like those offering zero-rated apps act, before framing policy in this regard. And it is in the same spirit that Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore justifies the opposite – precautionary, principle-based regulation in the absence of data.

The critical question remains: What do we want to do in the absence of data? The most obvious response to this is fund the creation of public data on the issue. There seems to be little movement in that direction from either the TRAI or the DoT. There needs to be a greater public demand for this. That being said, the creation of new public data on internet usage in India can only be a long-term response. What do we do now? To be honest, the importance of taking a decision on this right now only exists because of commercial pressures. While business is important, how far, as citizens, do we want to give into these pressures to make a hasty choice?

These are important questions we need to debate. But whatever we choose to do, it is important to be aware of the circumstances we are making those choices in, so that when the circumstances change, we have the free understanding to change our choices.


Myth: The Indian media finally spoke up for the public interest.

Reality: The Indian media spoke up for its own interests, which might have a few intersections with the public interest.

One of the popular stories going around the Indian media is that big, evil, foreign corporations want to destroy “net neutrality” in India and we need to fight them. Conversely the Facebook story is that it wants to help India to connect; it is no big, evil corporation but a benevolent philanthropicorganisation.

The reality, as usual, is way greyer. The truth of the matter is that net neutrality, like life, is not a Lord of the Rings movie with a good versus evil battle. It is true that good versus evil makes for an easy story to tell (I also call it lazy storytelling), but it has very little to do with facts. And the fact is that some big corporations including Facebook and big TSPs like Reliance or Airtel might want to undermine a certain version of net neutrality given their business interests, and these interests can sometimes hurt a citizen internet user, and sometimes not, and may sometimes even help.

Considered comprehensively, the public interest lies in simultaneously maximizing innovation in both TSP and OTT markets, increasing internet access (by building infrastructure, reducing access prices, increasing access speeds), increasing media diversity on the internet, maintaining high, equal and fair competition in both TSP and OTT markets as well as low barriers to entry and, lastly, ensuring that internet content is not censored either by private companies, the government or anyone else.

“Media campaigns which try to speak in the name of the public interest, end up ignoring the complex nature of this interest.”


The reality is that absolutely no media debate is currently asking how can we design a governance mechanism which maximizes all these public interest parameters together? The reason is that the media (and within it different kinds and scales of media) is differently affected by such governance mechanisms because of differing interests from the public.

Much of the media industry might be interested, like the public, in maintaining competition and innovation but media diversity and battling censorship, for example, are not always a direct concern of the industry simply because such investments don’t give financial returns, and financial returns is what businesses are about. The public, on the other hand, is about much more.

It is sad but expected then, that popular, contradictory, but well-intentioned media campaigns like savetheinternet.in or Facebook Free Basics which try to speak in the name of the public interest, end up ignoring the complex nature of this interest. Each side justifiably advocates only those portions of the public interest spectrum which favour its own sustenance. In short, the public debate on net neutrality we are having right now is really a struggle of interests between established TSP/OTT corporations and upcoming startups.

Media campaigns which try to speak in the name of the public interest, end up ignoring the complex nature of this interest.

Sure, some the arguments of each favour certain aspects of the public interest (like Free Basics’ public interest angle of internet access or Savetheinternet’s public interest angle of equality) but neither of them is about the public interest as a whole, or per se.

The current media debate is not positioned in the public interest, rather certain ideas of the public interest are being read into the media industry’s own, often fraught interests. As citizens, rather than getting swept away by one camp’s arguments, we need to discern and separate our interests from the positions of all camps.

*G-J EXTRA SOURCE : Indianexpress.com is updating the debate. If you want to follow  click here

Watch : Decoding Net-neutrality 

Watch : Facebook Explaining Free Basics

To connect a billion people,

India must choose facts over fiction

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chairman of Facebook defends his move…

In every society, there are certain basic services that are so important for people’s wellbeing that we expect everyone to be able to access them freely.

We have collections of free basic books. They’re called libraries. They don’t contain every book, but they still provide a world of good.

We have free basic healthcare. Public hospitals don’t offer every treatment, but they still save lives.

We have free basic education. Every child deserves to go to school.

And in the 21st century, 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.

We know that when people have access to the internet they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare, communication. We know that for every 10 people connected to the internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty. We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the internet.

That’s not theory. That’s fact.

Another fact – when people have access to free basic internet services, these quickly overcome the digital divide.

Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. But even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives.

Over the last year Facebook has worked with mobile operators, app developers and civil society to overcome these barriers in India and more than 30 other countries. We launched Free Basics, a set of basic internet services for things like education, healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying for data.

More than 35 operators have launched Free Basics and 15 million people have come online. And half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days.

So the data is clear. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality. Data from more than five years of other programs that offer free access to Facebook, WhatsApp and other services shows the same.

If we accept that everyone deserves access to the internet, then we must surely support free basic internet services. That’s why more than 30 countries have recognized Free Basics as a program consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers.

Who could possibly be against this?

Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.

Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people.

Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim – falsely – that this will make the internet more like a walled garden.

Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim – falsely – that this will give people less choice.

Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim – falsely – the exact opposite.

A few months ago I learned about a farmer in Maharashtra called Ganesh.

Last year Ganesh started using Free Basics. He found weather information to prepare for monsoon season. He looked up commodity prices to get better deals. Now Ganesh is investing in new crops and livestock.

Critics of free basic internet services should remember that everything we’re doing is about serving people like Ganesh. This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today.

Right now the TRAI is inviting the public to help decide whether free basic internet services should be offered in India.

For those who care about India’s future, it’s worth answering some questions to determine what is best for the unconnected in India.

What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women’s rights?

How does Ganesh being able to better tend his crops hurt the internet?

We’ve heard legitimate concerns in the past, and we’ve quickly addressed those. We’re open to other approaches and encourage innovation. But today this program is creating huge benefits for people and the entire internet ecosystem. There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell TRAI over the last few weeks.

Choose facts over false claims. Everyone deserves access to the internet. Free basic internet services can help achieve this. Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India.


Harshath J.R. response to Mark’s arguments

You open your article by presenting Free Basics as analogous to other basic free services of a society like schools, libraries, health services and so on. But Mark, your analogy is flawed. A library aggregates AS MANY books as it can, and a hospital provides AS MUCH basic healthcare as possible. In fact, good public healthcare is the more socially developed countries (UK and many countries from mainland Europe). They key underlying principle is “as much as possible”. On the other hand, Free Basics provides as little as possible to qualify as an internet service. A real “free basic internet” would put in more effort, and definitely provide access to the real internet — for a restricted internet is not internet at all. You’ve mentioned before that it is not cost-effective to provide the real internet for free, but that is also not true. There are existing models of enabling internet access, like Aircel providing cheap and unrestricted internet. If all you have is philanthropy in mind and you do not care which conduit helps people out of poverty, I suggest you get behind one of them than peddle your own brand. And even if you must provide your own solution, don’t blame it on the money. Use some of the $42b you’ve set aside for charity.


Another problem is the power dynamics of your approach to providing internet access. With Free Basics, you hope to be the liberator of poor people from their poverty, but in fact in fact are perceived as a dictator, or worse, a tyrant. When helping the vulnerable, you can never be in a position where you can take from them. Free Basics puts you in exactly that position. You provide internet access to these people, but strip away their freedom to access any service they want (while ironically calling it “Free” Basics). It also puts you in a position where you can dictate and control their access to any new services. More than that, it paints you as disrespectful of these people’s freedom and dignity simply because they are poor.

Mark, if you know about our history, you’ll know that up until around 1990, India’s entrepreneurial sector was subjected to heavy licensing and permit restrictions. However in the 90s, we realized that an unfettered innovation landscape will help our country grow, and permits and licenses are only holding us back. A bunch of deregulations were implemented, and we’ve never looked back.

The same is true with internet. An unrestricted internet is the primary requirement to foster uninhibited innovation in online services. Gatekeepers and restrictions are bound to put a damper on them, and a model like Free Basics sets a very dangerous precedent, especially in India. It allows major ISPs to put up similar walled garden schemes, and to differentially charge for different services. All of this strongly reminds us of an era when our country was a lot less free and progressive. There have already been attempts by our existing ISPs at disrupting our freedom with schemes like zero-rating, and Airtel famously trying to change its customers separately for Skype. We’re in the middle of a battle for freedom on the internet, and Free Basics is caught in the crossfire. And we cannot risk allowing Free Basics in the midst of it all, for we cannot risk progress even for progress’s sake.

This also brings me to the subject of net neutrality. I don’t know what definition of net neutrality you go by, but you’re either being ignorant or disingenuous when you repeatedly claim that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality. Net neutrality simply means that an internet provider provides you access to the entire internet, and no content is discriminated against. Instead, Free Basics provides access to a restricted version of internet, while simultaneously becoming the gatekeeper to success of new services. It places barriers on free and permission-less innovation on the internet — also a key tenet of net neutrality. This makes Free Basics inherently not neutral.

Lastly — you observe that there is “surprisingly” a debate on Free Basics in India. Surprisingly? Do I detect a tinge of condescension here? I should think that the debate is, if anything, most unsurprising. You’re talking about introducing a model of internet that is hotly debated around the world — in a country that possibly has the most technologically savvy people! I’m sure that the debates on net neutrality in the US (“Music Freedom” by T-mobile, the Netflix-Comcast fast internet lanes saga, etc) did not surprise you. Neither should this. And if you still think it is surprising, I recommend you introspect about your subconscious attitudes towards the backward and the poor.

People please stop sending message to TRAI about Free Basics. Digital Equality is exact opposite of Net Neutrality. Do not fall into the trap of facebook’s emotional and misleading advertisements. Please go to the website http://www.savetheinternet.in to understand the concept of net neutrality and to know why Free Basics of facebook is harmful for our country.