Does Free Basics really compliment Net Neutrality?


Confused by the ongoing tussle between pro Net Neutrality and pro Free Basics activist? Can't decide if it even affects you who is already making use of the whole internet? Read this article to know how important is to raise your voice in this discussion and make a intelligent decision to decide what type of internet you want!

Before we begin I believe it is imperative that we understand the meaning of Net Neutrality and why is it important in today's world more than ever.We live a corporate greedy world where ethic don't necessarily come on the top priority for people. Business decisions are not based on morals but on how to increase the profit each quarter for the company. If both the things align, you get a media show blitz showing you how the X company cares for the society and people. But if it is a choice between the two and obviously the latter being the priority, the decisions are taken discreetly away from the people's eyes and only the goods of the decisions are highlighted with the cons carefully hidden behind a veil of false ethics.

Definitions


With the advent of the internet, the biggest factor that has contributed to the growth of the world wide web is its inherently free nature. No nation, no company, no organization rules/governs the internet and it has become such an open and free platform that it sorts of shames the rules under we live in. Internet has become such a big force that it is the only medium that unites the whole world together. It is the cheapest and simplest medium which blurs the national boundaries that humans have stretched since a number of years. It is the biggest source of knowledge, entertainment, news, storage, communication and what not for a large population. This openness for each and every one, for each and every thing is what called Net Neutrality. This is the concept that has allowed people with no means, no resources but with lots of ideas and innovative thinking to make big on internet because any Tom, Dick and Harry now has a medium to showcase their skills to the whole world and become famous and successful.

Here is a definition of Net Neutrality as defined on Wikipedia:
Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.


Now that we have clarity on the concept of Net Neutrality, let us understand what does Free Basics stand for and what it promises to offer the Indian citizens. The analogy that Mark Zuckerberg used to explain Free Basics is
We have collections of free basic books. They're called libraries. They don't contain every book, but they still provide a world of good

Similarly, according to Mark, Free Basics attempts to provide the most basic of the services to those who are still not connected to internet and therefore are not able to reap the many many benefits that the World Wide Web can offer. It is like an initiation to the internet so that the people who are still not connected understand the advantages that internet offers and make use of it. The advantages are related to Health services, Public services, Job search, Weather Information, Communication, etc.

The above paragraph is a rough summary of what is free basics. A free service being provided to the unconnected to help them reap the benefits of the online knowledge and services and slowly initiate them to the whole internet once they understand the benefit of this connected world. But is the aim of Free Basics just that? Is a private company which is now a public listed company and faces the pressure of showing profits to its investors really so committed to this noble cause?

What Free Basics is actually offering


Free Basics is like a walled garden where you are allowed to eat only those fruits that the gardener decides to plants, the role of gardener being played by Facebook here. Or better, let's take the example of a new born child. A toddler identifies its parents within a few days and feels safe with them. Try giving the child to a guest in your house and see how that child cries. When you give a first time internet user a walled ecosystem consisting of only a few services, essentially what you are doing is, you are making loyal visitors for your service. These few websites is where the user will feel home and even when he chooses to go out of this walled ecosystem, his trustworthy websites will always have an undue advantage of getting visited because well, he/she already knows where we can connect with his friends, where he can find information about weather, where can he can get information on health, etc. Let us be open about this, what Facebook is basically doing is that it is making sure that its leadership in social networking is never challenged. Just consider this, if Orkut was available as a free service to you, would Facebook have ever become what it is today? And let's take up this question too, are those who are not online so dumb that they have to provided a safe nest to start their online journey with? Don't they have a right to get access to the whole vast of internet without being misled into the small ecosystem of Free Basics?

Let's not skip the telecom provider - Reliance - as to why they were the first ones who partnered with Facebook for Free Basics. Telecom companies have pure commercial interests in taking being a partner of initiatives. It is like I discussed in the first paragraph, here they are able to satisfy both their greed and the need to keep the facade on Social Service on. Facebook is the gatekeeper of the Free Basics and according to them they will allow any partner that complies with the reasonable T&Cs they have framed. If that is true, why is Free Basics not providing the users any of the free messaging or VoIP services in its ecosystem? Isn't Communication one of the services that Free Basics is providing? If you are not aware, Telecom companies have been crying afoul of services like Whatsapp and Skype which helps people connect to their loved ones for free of cost no matter where in the world you are. This is despite on the year on year increasing revenues of these companies.
Though Facebook is the public face of "Gatekeepers" but obviously, the services to be allowed in Free Basics would have to have the permission of the telecom companies too which are the carriers of these services. So the argument of Facebook that this is not a commercial venture for them is proven wrong from the start itself.



Alternatives


Facebook says that providing the whole internet free is not a solution as it is not feasible in long term. And as for the blames of giving a walled garden, according to them a majority of users of Net Neutrality actually shift the full internet plans within the first 2-3 months of usage of Free Basics. But then as I explained earlier, even if we consider the claims of Facebook true, providing them a walled garden does give those selected partners of Free Basics an unreasonable advantage.

If Facebook is really sincere about its mission of bringing the large unconnected population online, the best way to do that is to give them a trial pack of internet with limited speed and data for 2-3 months. That is sufficient for any person to taste the advantages of internet and this will make sure that no one service unfairly gains an advantage in this race to have the most number of visitors/subscribers/members.

Conclusion


There are better ways to bring the unconnected people into the world of WWW. What Facebook is trying to do is nothing but part of its commercial strategy to always stay in the game. There is a reason why none of the bloggers, internet marketers, e-commerce start ups are supporting Free Basics. It is a simple attempt to kill any competition and make sure that no small player can come forward and challenge the existing big players.
7th January is the last day when you can raise you voice against this attempt by Facebook to stifle innovation and the right of a common internet user to choose the content they want to consume. If you want to raise you voice against Free Basics please go to this page and tell TRAI why Free Basics should not be allowed in India. I will sign off by quoting what the founder of WWW has to say about Net Neutrality.
… something which is branded internet, it's not internet, then you just say no.

No it isn't free, no it isn't in the public domain, there are other ways of reducing the price of internet connectivity and giving something … [only] giving people data connectivity to part of the network deliberately, I think is a step backwards [Tim Berners-Lee, source]



More articles: Net Neutrality

Comments

Guest Author: Bhasker Raj30 Dec 2015

Ankit,
You have diagnosed in depth the Net Neutrality to enable people to understand the pros and cons of Net Neutrality.
Let's not be in a haste to jump and support Net Neutrality, the TRAI is correct to consider the feedback from all sections of society before taking the final decision.

I have some points to be considered, make the Internet affordable so that even the commaon man can use the services.
In the present scenario, the service providers are competing with each other to earn the profits and the user has to pay the price. Also quality of service is essential for users. TRAI should ensure these essential conditions are met with by the service providers.

Author: pranay anumula02 Jan 2016 Member Level: Gold   Points : 2

That was a great in-depth description of free basis and exposed the true reality of it and we shouldn't support it. In the mask of free basics, the only thing we get is free facebook which is useless, so we shouldn't support it and if the internet will be given for free then net neutrality should be maintained.
If this is not applied then we can see start ups requiring more amount of revenue to spend, which in turn means again a step back.

Author: Timmappa Kamat03 Jan 2016 Member Level: Gold   Points : 1

Facebook and Reliance have been trying to make fun of the consumers. Hopefully, TRAI takes appropriate action against the exploitation of the general public in the name of free Internet. Let us wait till TRAI checks out on the suggestions received and come up with conclusions.

Author: Ankit03 Jan 2016 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

@Bhaskar,
Only when we support Net Neutrality does it show that we are standing up for what we believe is right. I am not personally comfortable to have a group of bureaucrats who might not even understand what a free internet means decide the fate of internet in our country.

Your points about affordable internet and quality of the service are out of the preview of this discussion. There are many different issues but here we are focusing just on the freedom of internet.

Author: Timmappa Kamat04 Jan 2016 Member Level: Gold   Points : 5

Bhasker, you seem to be confusing net neutrality with the data plan prices. What Net Neutrality proposes is once you subscribe to a particular data plan, you should be able to use it for whatever Internet has an offer. Forcing a differential treatment of services or platforms is against the principle of net neutrality. Your complaint about data plan pricing should be a matter of a separate discussion. Suppose I am subscribed to 1 GB data pack for 28 days. What if my service provider says I cannot use it for WhatsApp? Shall I agree to it? Absolutely not! Same goes for free basics. By making it appear as if they are offering something for free, they have been exploiting the gullible subscribers. Offering a thing for free amounts to discriminating it against the other. Hope you understood it now clearly.

Author: Timmappa Kamat13 Jan 2016 Member Level: Gold   Points : 6

The deadline set by TRAI to receive suggestions ended on 7th January, 2016. Interestingly enough, initial reports suggest that 80% of the responses have come in favour of free basics! Now, does it not seem like a result of aggressive lobbying from Facebook? It has been coming up with frequent pop-ups on its apps to send the petition via the app. And I am sure for most of the people using Facebook, internet is nothing more than Facebook and WhatsApp! TRAI should, in fact, reject all suggestions coming from such IDs.

Author: Ankit13 Jan 2016 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

There is a silver lining though too in that initial report by TRIA. Individual responses which were removed directly from email ids were overwhelmingly against Free Basics. If TRIA uses some common logic of rejecting common automated responses, like those sent by Facebook medium, then I think we do have something to be hopeful about.

Author: Timmappa Kamat09 Feb 2016 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

And the wish has been granted! TRAI has categorically denied permission to the concepts like Free Basics. No operator can resort to differential pricing when it comes to internet based services.
This has in effect made the ideas like Free Basics and AirTel Zero completely illegal in India. It is a clear Win Win situation for Indian net users.



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