Facebook Hits Back in Internet.org India Row

FacebookFacebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, has defended the aims of his Internet.org initiative on Thursday, after several Indian firms decided to pull out of the project.

Zuckerberg argued that Internet.org’s basic free services were not incompatible with net neutrality and the principle that all web services should be equally accessible.

He wrote in a blog that, “We fully support net neutrality universal connectivity, therefore net neutrality can and must co-exist.”

But critics of the project were quick to respond insisting that, “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 Internet are one and the same.”

At the heart of the row is Internet.org’s policy of “zero-rating” whereby telecoms providers agree not to pass on the costs of handling the data traffic so that consumers can receive services for free.

Critics further argue this has a distorting effect on competition, making it difficult for publishers not signed up to Internet.org to reach the hundreds of millions of poorer people in developing economies who have no Internet access at all.

But Facebook disagrees, pointing out that joining Internet.org is free for web publishers and app providers, “We are open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining, we want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected,” said Zuckerberg.

However, Bharti Airtel, India’s leading mobile operator has also been applying zero-rating to its Airtel Zero service, which implies that consumers can access certain apps for free, because the app provider picks up the data bill.

Smaller developers without the resources who do the same are at a commercial disadvantage.

Things however took a different turn when a number of firms, including travel portal Cleartrip.com and media giant Times Group, withdrew from Internet .org, claiming that the service conflicts with the principle of net neutrality.

The issue has certainly arose the Indian public, more than 800,000 people have sent emails to India’s telecom regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority, of India, demanding a free and fair internet.

On the other hand, Indian telecoms companies have been putting pressure on the government to change the way mobile apps, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Instagram, are licensed.

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