Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facebook Opens Up Internet.org amid India's Battle for Net Neutrality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facebook Opens Up Internet.org amid India's Battle for Net Neutrality

Article excerpt

If you had asked people in India about their opinion on "net neutrality" a month ago, they likely would have had the same American, pre-John-Oliver-segment response: "Net, what?" But asking the same question today might ignite a debate on how free and open the Internet should be.

Much as in the US, net neutrality advocates have a group of comedians to thank for finally gaining the public's attention on the matter. After a video went viral of the group explaining the idea and what its demise means for users, the backlash was swift and effective with more than 800,000 Indians messaging their telecommunications providers demanding everyone have fair access to the Internet.

Now, a different tech giant, outside of India's telecommunication companies, has suddenly found itself stuck in the country's crosshairs on the issue of net neutrality: Facebook.

Facebook being swept up in the debate may or may not have led the company to open its Internet.org Platform to all developers around the world. The move was designed to create more transparency over which sites the platform will support, as it explained in a blog. Lack of transparency over which sites would make it onto the service was one of the major complaints in India.

The reason advocates are concerned about Inernet.org, which has the ultimate goal of connecting "the two thirds of the world that doesn't have Internet access," is that while the ambitious goal sounds noble, it also makes Facebook one of the few, if not the only providers of Web service in many places. Net neutrality supporters believe the social media site having a dominant position with access, and the way it applies those powers, is limiting the principles of an open Web by favoring certain sites and apps.

After sustained pressure, several websites that initially partnered with Internet.org backed out. One major associate, Cleartrip, a site that provides travel information, explained its reasoning for breaking the deal in a blog post, stating, "it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org."

While Facebook has called its latest move a "natural evolution" of the service, others believe public pressure and multiple partners backing out led to the company opening the Internet.org platform to the public. Either way, Internet.org is now an open program for developers to "easily create services that integrate with Internet.org." Facebook also said in the post that the move gives more choices to those who use its free basic service.

Facebook has so far launched the service in India, Zambia, Colombia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In India, the company partnered with Reliance Communications, an Indian telecommunications company, to provide nearly 40 websites and services free to users, including some related to health, travel, weather, local sports, Facebook, and the Facebook Messenger app. …

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