Facebook s CEO Mark Zuckerberg is visiting India this week and he is also slated to conduct a town hall Q&A session at IIT-Delhi on October 28. Last month, Zuckerberg had hosted a similar session with PM Narendra Modi at Facebook s headquarters in Menlo Park campus. While Facebook has faced criticism for its Internet.org initiative, Zuckerberg has defended it on several occasions. It is likely to be one of the topics that might be discussed during the Delhi town hall. With Mark Zuckerberg’s Delhi town hall scheduled this week, we look back at some of the debates that occurred over the past few months. Also Read - Mark Zuckerberg discusses net neutrality, zero-rating issues with Delhi MPsAlso Read - Technology can help build superpowers: Mark Zuckerberg
Net Neutrality: Considering the sensitivity of the topic, there are a few questions unanswered, or rather critics are not aware of. The first one is the Net Neutrality debate, something that is not defined yet. The whole debate started when telecom operators started selling different levels of speeds for accessing certain services. For instance, the operator may sell a YouTube pack with a speed of 2Mbps for the service, whereas for rest of the services, speed might be limited to 512Kbps or so. However, with Net Neutrality, users can enjoy a fixed internet speed, no matter what service they use. Also Read - Lobbying for net neutrality, working towards building open framework: Mark Zuckerberg
Commenting on the debate, Zuckerberg said, There is this big struggle, debate in India now on how you balance these two things and this is an incredibly important debate because India is the country in the world with the most unconnected people. He further added saying that connecting everyone to the Internet should be a priority as it will help in creating jobs and elevating people from poverty. I think we need to make sure the regulatory framework that enables both of those things net neutrality protection that folks need and the ability to work on new models for (internet) access, he said.
Getting Internet access for all: Over the past decade, there has been an Internet boom across the globe. Still, not everyone is connected to the web, especially the ones living in rural areas in most countries. With Internet.org and Free Basics, Facebook plans to bring Internet to billions of people. The idea behind this service is to offer access to a handful of services for free, just to let users get used to Internet and learn about its advantages. The users can then subscribe to Internet plans to access the entire web.
In an interview, Mark Zuckerberg said, It is not sustainable to offer the whole Internet for free, but is possible for internet.org platform to give basic services without any cost. He also added that internet.org is open to all content and application developers who meet certain guidelines.
The only limitation for any developer to participate (in Internet.org) is that it has to be structured so that it uses limited amount of bandwidth, said Kevin Martin, Facebook s Vice President for Mobile and Global Access Policy at the India Economic Convention 2015.
Facebook doesn t make money: By offering free Internet to users, Facebook isn t making money, nor does it pay anything to the telecom operators. Facebook partners with operators on technical side while offering marketing support to create awareness among the users. The social media giant said that not having a program like Free Basics more people would remain offline and without realizing the real benefits of Internet.
Not exclusive to certain operators: A lot of critics had accused that Free Basics has been exclusive to certain operators only. However, Facebook defended by saying that it is open to any operator who would want to join the program. The social media giant gave a couple of examples such as Philippines and Malawi where they have launched the program with multiple operators.
Defending Facebook s initiative, Zuckerberg said that Internet.org and Net Neutrality can co-exist. For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That s why programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations, he said.
However, one question that remains unanswered is whether Free Basics or Internet.org is the Internet, like Facebook is marketing it. How does Facebook decide which services get to go on Free Basics and which do not. What about services from Facebook’s rivals. Here Facebook acts as a gatekeeper to decide what services users access for free and for which services they would have to pay. A better idea would be to subsidize Internet access till a certain limit and then let users decide whether they would like to pay more for using it further.
Enter Free Basics Express Wi-Fi: Ahead of Mark Zuckerberg s India visit, Facebook has already begun with a pilot project of Free Basics Express Wi-Fi in India. Currently, the project has started in partnership with AirJaldi in the region near Nepalese border. There are two plans one in which users can pay Rs 10 per day to access 100MB of data or pay Rs 200 to get 20GB of data valid for a month. It is important to point out that this plan is way too cheaper than what most Internet Service Providers in India offer. With around 30,000 people in the region, the service is accessed by around 6,000 people on a daily basis.