India Defends Net Neutrality against Facebook’s Free Basics

by Matt Klassen on February 12, 2016

0106_facebook2_650x4552It was never hard to see through Facebook’s ploy, an involved plot to establish the social network as the onramp for the unconnected billions to finally drive on the information superhighway. In fact, more than that, by offering its Free Basics service, Facebook has been attempting to establish itself not only as the online gateway, but as the Internet itself, hoping that people find enough within Facebook’s closed ecosystem that they never need to leave.

Further, in true American fashion it seems that Facebook assumed the world would be grateful for such efforts; an altruistic company led by a benevolent leader who thought only of how much greater the world would be if everyone was connected. I’m glad India didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.

According to reports, India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority ruled in favour of its current Net Neutrality standards earlier this week, effectively banning Facebook’s initiative and its associated Free Basics online access app. While Facebook is understandably disappointed (and continues to defend its altruism) consider this a win for Net Neutrality, one that shows just what strong open Internet standards can do (and just how weak the FCC is at defending ours here at home).

What’s interesting in all this is that Barbara van Schewick, director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, whose paper was recently submitted to the FCC regarding the illegality of zero-rating certain streaming video feeds here in North America, was at the heart of this debate.

“This is a very important decision for the future of the Internet in India,” said van Schewick, whose paper the TRA cited in its ruling.

The TRA decided “ISPs should not pick winners and losers online,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “The Internet is a level playing field where users, not ISPs, decide what they want to do online.”

“In India, given that a majority of the population are yet to be connected to the Internet, allowing service providers to define the nature of access would be (the) equivalent of letting ISPs shape the users’ Internet experience,” the TRA ruling said, and this “can prove to be risky.”

“If ISPs really want to get more people online, they can, for example, offer 500 MB of bandwidth to everyone at 2G speeds, but what people do with that bandwidth is their choice,” van Schewick said.

Simply put, if Facebook and other ISPs truly want to connect the unconnected billions, there are a myriad of other options that would allow users to determine their own online experience, instead of being forced to connect through predetermined portals like Free Basics and other such services.

Although of course the flipside of this argument is that if you pre-emptively regulate something that does not yet exist (mass Internet access), all you’re really doing is ensuring that such a thing will never come to pass. While I’m not sure I would fully agree with that logic, I would say that taking the time to connect the erstwhile unconnected billions the right way strikes me as infinitely better than enslaving them to corporate interests.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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