Patrice Riemens on Thu, 31 Dec 2015 21:05:48 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Soutik Biswas: Why is Mark Zuckerberg angry at critics in India? (BBC

(Bwo Bytes4all & india-gii lists)

original to:

Why is Mark Zuckerberg angry at critics in India?
By Soutik Biswas (Delhi)

Mark Zuckerberg is feeling the force of critics who believe his effort 
to provide Indians with free access to a limited number of internet 
services hurts India's democracy and violates net neutrality.

In an unusually pugnacious appeal in the mass-circulation Times of 
India, the Facebook founder forcefully defended introducing his Free 
Basics service, "a set of basic internet services for education, 
healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying 
for data".

Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg says, has already launched the service in 
partnership with more than 35 mobile operators in more than 30 

He says more than 15 million people have already come online because of 
the service. "The data is clear," he says. "Free Basics is a bridge to 
the full internet and digital equality."

So - in a tone which many say mocks critics - Mr Zuckerberg asks: "Who 
could possibly be against this?

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

Stiff opposition

After all, with more than 130 million users, India is Facebook's second 
biggest market in the world.

Mr Zuckerberg has been bear-hugged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra 
Modi in California, and has visited India twice. He insists India will 
be crucial to getting "the next billion online".

Many believe Mr Zuckerberg possibly expected a cakewalk with Free 
Basics, and is now irate at being stonewalled by critics who are not 
convinced about his motives.

Earlier this month, India's telecom regulator directed a mobile operator 
that partnered with Facebook to put the Free Basics offer on hold 
following stiff opposition by the critics, who believe that it runs 
contrary to the principles of net neutrality and that data providers 
should not favour some online services over others by offering cheaper 
or faster access.

Last April, hundreds of thousands of Indians sent emails to the 
regulator and set up websites demanding a free and fair internet.

All this is not helping Mr Zuckerberg. So Facebook has launched a lavish 
campaign to canvass support for Free Basics, putting out expensive 
full-page double-spread adverts in leading Indian newspapers and putting 
up billboards in cities.

And on Monday, he lashed out against his critics here for continuing to 
"spread false claims - even if that means leaving behind a billion 

"Instead of recognising 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," he wrote.

India is the second biggest global market for Facebook

"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 recognising that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, 
they claim - falsely - the exact opposite."

But prominent tech activists are not convinced.

Nikhil Pahwa, a volunteer with, says the Facebook 
boss has not answered a critical question.

"Why has Facebook chosen the current model for Free Basics, which gives 
users a selection of around 100 sites (including a personal blog and a 
real estate company homepage), while rejecting the option of giving the 
poor free access to the open, plural and diverse web?," he wrote in a 
stinging riposte to Mr Zuckerberg's personal appeal.

'Open access'

Mr Pahwa, a fierce defender of net neutrality, says research has shown 
that "less experienced, low-income groups prefer access to an open and 
unrestricted internet".

They should rather be given the choice, he writes, of "deciding what 
they want to access, with millions of websites and apps to choose from, 
for say, three days, over being given unlimited access to a limited 

Mr Zuckerberg possibly answers this question partially in his appeal.

He says "certain basic services" are important for people's well-being 
in all societies, so we have collections of free books in libraries, 
free basic healthcare - and not every treatment - which saves lives, and 
free basic education. Ditto with free basic internet services, he 

But this is only a part of the story, say critics.

More than 90% of India's internet users are mobile

There have been protests in support of net neutrality in India

Mr Pahwa says Facebook and the Indian mobile partner Reliance 
Communications "reserve the right to reject applications from websites 
and apps for Free Basics, and forces them to conform to its technical 

"Services which compete with telecom operator services will not be 
allowed on Free Basics. It would need Facebook's permission (and hence, 
time) for a citizen-powered crisis-response effort such as to be made available to those on Free Basics, and the 
flexibility and freedom with which such an effort can evolve would be 
restricted or limited by Facebook's guidelines."


More than half of India's 320 million internet users - 94% of whom are 
mobile - use Facebook and the instant messaging app WhatsApp, both owned 
by Mr Zuckerberg, every day, a study has shown.

The country is expected to have 500 million internet users by the end of 

Technology analysts like Prasanto K Roy say it is all right for Mr 
Zuckerberg to look at India as a "great business opportunity" and pick 
up his next billion Facebook users.

"But he is being disingenuous with his Free Basics campaign. He is 
pushing what is essentially a corporate strategy, which is nothing 
wrong, and equating it with free basic education and healthcare," he 

"Facebook is spending millions of dollars in the media to drum up 
support for Free Basics in India. What about using this money to 
subsidise internet access for the poor? Why is it dressing up what is 
essentially a corporate strategy as an altruistic mission?"

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