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Why you should or probably shouldn’t support Facebook’s Free Basics campaign?

‘Facebooking’ has become a daily routine for millions of its users and for some “Facebook is internet”. Free Basics campaign launched by the social media giant Facebook – which became available last month to provide basic internet services, like search, Wikipedia, weather reports and health information – free access to all. On the other hand, a large section of netizens not only in India but all over the world are against this FB’s campaign, arguing it’s against ‘net neutrality’.

What is Net Neutrality?

It means the internet service providers should enable access of all applications and content regardless of the source without favoring or blocking any particular bunch of websites. So, basically there should be chaos ‘not order’ on the internet. Simply, everyone from all over the world should be able to access or provide services on the internet without any discrimination.

What is Free Basics?

According to Facebook, it is an open platform to build services and to make their websites available free on internet – for those who are not able to pay data charges. However, users can access only those websites or applications that are in partnership with Facebook. So, the Free Basics means limited access to websites and applications.

Amidst the growing criticism over its Free Basics program, Facebook chose to counter anti-campaign arguments by its 10 point arguments. And it seems people have already made up their mind to protest, as more the Facebook is promoting its campaign more the people are going against them. Let’s find out by countering FB’s first five arguments.

FB’s first Argument: “Free basics is open to any carriers. Any mobile operator can join us in connecting India.”

Against: Initially it was made available by only one mobile operator (Reliance). Now FB is saying only after a strong protest lodged by activists.

Second: “We do not charge anyone anything for Free Basics. Period.

Against: Only a handful of people really understand Internet business model – how they generate revenue ? According to Bruce Schneier, “survillence is the business model of the internet”. So the proxy server of FB will probably do the data retention work to sell corporations as they remain eager to buy individual data. So, of course FB doesn’t charge anything for free basics but the hidden business model definitely enables it to make a profit.

Third: “We do not pay for the data consumed in Free Basics. Operators participate because the program has proven to bring more people online. Free Basics has brought new people onto mobile networks on average over 50% faster since launching the service”.

Against: True, FB doesn’t pay the data consumed in free basics but its telecom partner surely promotes the FB version of internet. And its assertion that only because of Free Basics the numbers of internet users are increasing is a dubious point. Internet usage is growing at 14% on average without even the availability of these kinds of programs, so the FB’s data about the internet usage growth doesn’t sound logical.

Fourth: “Any developer or publisher can have their content on Free Basics. There are clear technical specs openly published here …….. and we have never rejected an app or publisher who has me these tech specs.”

Against: It came only when network neutrality activists protested and garnered support against this exclusive arrangement. As for now major applications and service providers remain skeptical due to fierce protest on internet by its users and nobody is sure how they will manage to provide high bandwidth destinations such as YouTube or Hangama.

Fifth: “Nearly 800 developers in India have signed their support for Free Basics.”

Against: These developers are probably individuals who are not a potential threat to FB or the applications available in the Free Basics. We all know that a healthy competition helps us to get better products but the very foundation of modern business will be endangered in virtual space if the free space will be monopolized by one company and its partners.

In a broader sense, Facebook is surely working towards a good cause but the problem lies in their methodology. Probably, the solution is to increase the number of users of internet instead of bundling a bunch of useless services to them. The telecom operators can make 2G data less costly or free for a limited time period – may be considered among many solutions – because now 2G users are migrating to 3G and 4G.

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