Zuckerberg asks India to allow free net service

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. After a $19bn takeover by Facebook, mobile messaging service WhatsApp said it will launch free voice calls by mid-year. (Lluis Gene, AFP)
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. After a $19bn takeover by Facebook, mobile messaging service WhatsApp said it will launch free voice calls by mid-year. (Lluis Gene, AFP)

Mumbai – Facebook Chairman and founder Mark Zuckerberg made a personal appeal in an op-ed column in one of India’s leading newspapers for the country to allow a free internet service that has stirred controversy among competitors and questions from the country’s regulators.

Facebook’s proposed Free Basics plan will allow customers to access the Facebook social-networking site and other services such as education, healthcare, and employment listings from their phones without a data plan. Activists have opposed Free Basics because it would threaten the principles of net neutrality and change the pricing for access to different websites.

“This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics,” wrote Zuckerberg.

“If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today.”

This month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India asked in a “consultation paper” whether telecommunications service providers should be allowed to have differential pricing for data usage on different websites, applications and platforms.

Activists have argued that Free Basics is a “land grab on government property” and that with data rates being low, eventually “everybody will be on the full and open internet.”

With two days to go before the deadline for comments set by India’s telecoms regulator, Facebook is pressing to win over regulators and the public for Free Basics, a programme already offered in 37 countries from Angola to Zambia.

Beyond Zuckerberg’s op-ed in the Times of India newspaper, the company has taken out full-page advertisements to make its case. One features a smiling Indian farmer and his family who the ads say used new techniques to double his crop yield.

The initial comment period for the paper ends December 30.

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