After coming in the crosshairs of net neutrality activists for his company’s Free Basics (formerly internet.org) zero rating service, Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that Facebook fully supports net neutrality.
Speaking at a townhall in IIT-Delhi, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid to rest what he called “rumours” and expressed his support for net neutrality. “The US put in strong net neutrality regulations which we supported. In other countries, we are figuring out what rules they want and supporting that,” he said in response to questions.
“In India, we realise the internet is expensive. Operators spend billions of dollars on infrastructure and can’t give internet for free, but it’s important that we have regulations that prevent companies and people from hurting others. If you’re...trying to watch videos on YouTube and an operator wants to charge you more, that’s bad.”
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Zuckerberg elaborated on net neutrality regulations in the US and advocated a similar model for India.
“Good net neutrality provisions are blocking things that hurt people but also prioritising zero rating. If you’re a student and are getting free access without which you won’t be able to do your homework, who’s getting hurt? If you’re a fisherman and get to sell your fish because of free internet, that’s good. We want that.”
Critics fear that internet.org will promote only Facebook and its partners, while sites that aren’t registered with the service will take a hit. They also argue that users will not have unfettered access to all segments of the worldwide web and will be restricted only to sites that have signed on for the Free Basics platform.
In response, Zuckerberg said: “I see these petitions going around. But people who are not on the internet can’t sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the internet. We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people with no internet access.”
‘Zuckerberg is creating a false choice’
Activists supporting net neutrality however were critical of Zuckerberg’s statements. “With internet.org Mr Zuckerberg is creating a false choice between free access and net neutrality.” said Nikhil Pahwa founder of Medianama and a vocal advocate of net neutrality.
“There are ways to offer free internet without violating net neutrality. One of those ways is what the Mozilla Foundation has done with Grameen Phone in Bangladesh by offering ad-suported free web browsing. Telecom provider Orange in Africa provides 500 MB of free data with purchase of a handset,” Pahwa added.