Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about Internet.org and net neutrality . I'd like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see.
First, I'll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet.
In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world - and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.
The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education.
I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities.
In many countries, however, there are big social and economic
obstacles to connectivity
. The internet isn't affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.
This is why we created Internet.org, our effort to connect the whole world. By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, Internet.org offers free access in local languages to basic internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. Internet.org lowers the cost of accessing the internet and raises awareness of the internet's value. It helps include everyone in the world's opportunities.
We've made some great progress, and already more than 600 million people in 8 countries can now access free basic services through Internet.org. In India, we've already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana. Our work complements Prime Minister Modi's Digital India Initiative , which aims to expand internet access across one of the world's largest nations.
We're proud of this progress. But some people have criticised the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this.
We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don't discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It's an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it.
Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles - net neutrality and universal connectivity - can and must coexist.
To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some services for free. If you can't afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access and voice than none at all.
Internet.org doesn't block or throttle any other services, or create fast lanes. We will never prevent people accessing other services, and we will not use fast lanes. We're also open to including all mobile operators in Internet.org, and we're not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected.
Arguments about net neutrality shouldn't be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. Eliminating programmes that bring more people online won't increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.
When people are connected, we can achieve amazing things as individuals and as a community. Every person in the world deserves access to the opportunities the internet provides. And we can all benefit from the perspectives, creativity and talent of the people not yet connected.
We have a historic opportunity to connect hundreds of millions of people in India for the first time. We should work together to make that happen now.
Read | Battle for open internet: Will you have to pay for WhatsApp, YouTube?
Read | Backing net neutrality, Cleartrip, NDTV log out of Facebook’s Internet.org
Read | Net neutrality wins first round: Flipkart walks out on Airtel Zero
Read | Don't understand 'net neutrality'? Let the AIB guys explain it to you
The author is the Founder and CEO of Facebook