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Resolve to Save The Internet This New Year

posted Dec 31, 2015, 4:51 AM by Kanika G

Most of you have probably noticed the full page newspaper ads, TV commercials, bill boards and large advertisements covering bus stops, advertising free basics, facebooks newest product. They advertise it as a philanthropic venture. So were you confused as to why they were spending so much money advertising it? When was the last time you saw a charitable undertaking, have so much money to waste on advertising and why do they need to advertise so much? Seems odd doesn't it?

Well apparently facebook is desperate. According to Mahesh Murthy in this article:

Both companies (Facebook and Google) have 1.5 billion users, but Google makes Rs. 70,000 crores while Facebook does less than one-fifth as well. In other words, for every new user that comes on the internet, Facebook makes Rs. 8, while Google makes around Rs. 48.

Facebook’s stock is valued at a much higher multiple than Google, but people have begin to ask why they deserve this. With no reason to support the stratospheric price, it will fall.

For Facebook to have a chance to keep their stock price high, and to keep Zuckerberg and wife as rich as they are, they need to find new users who sign up for Facebook, but at the same time do not use Google. Enter the strategy: A program to offer Facebook but not Google at the mass, poor people level.

Ah so now we are getting somewhere. This isn't about charity at all, is it now? Okay so now that we have altruism out of the way, the question is:

Is free basics really bad in any way or is it just a harmless profit making scheme that happens to benefit some?

And the answer is that free basics is indeed very harmful to our future prosperity as a country. Here is why:

Facebook wants to play kingmaker in India much like the British

"The British Empire was based on the control of the seas. Today, whoever controls the data oceans controls the global economy. Silicon Valley’s data grab is the new form of colonialism we are witnessing now." quoted from here.

FreeBasics provides free data for the use of certain selected sites. These sites have to get approval from facebook and facebook reserves the right to change the terms and condiions for inclusion of sites at any time. Today as a result of the network effect if only a small chunk of sites are made available to a large number of people who have no other options then other sites will find it very difficult to compete and start ups will find it impossible to establish themselves. So sites included in free basics can sell their products at higher prices and still succeed. The poor who will use free basics most will only know of these high priced options. Other websites will soon shrivel up from lack of notice. Facebook will be creating monopolies that are completely under it's control. This has happened before in our country.
Remember how the British supported some princely states and pitted them against others and practised divide and conquer. Well free basics will do the same. It will support some businesses to create monopolies under the control of Facebook, in the same way that the greedy Maharajas under the control of the British  squashed resistance from their own countrymen. Let us not forget the lessons that History has taught us.

We can't trust facebook

Facebook is playing a dirty game — they’re misleading and tricking Indian citizens like you and me into endorsing their platform “Free Basics” in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on net neutrality. Facebook users are accusing Facebook of sending TRAI emails in their name, endorsing their platform, without their consent. See here.

While Free Basics currently doesn’t have advertising, who isn’t to say that this isn’t yet another bait and switch from Facebook. MediaNama readers might remember how Facebook earlier encouraged businesses to spend on building their fan pages, and later artificially reduced the reach of updates so that they would have to pay to get maximum reach. What if, tomorrow, introduces advertising for its users, with a revenue share being given to its telecom operator partner? Bait and switch. By that time, the service would be far too entrenched for it to be shut down, competitive pressure would ensure that services don’t exit it, and more and more advertising would be routed through Facebook. See here.

Facebook supports Net Neutrality in the US, violates it in India. See here.

ASCI says that it has received a series of complaints from individuals via their social media platform and online complaint system. On December 28, ASCI wrote on its Twitter handle, "We are in receipt of complaints against a facebook ad. Complaint would be processed in the coming days." See here.

Is Facebook access really what the poor need?

An analogy is this: people need a balanced diet of proteins, fat, carbs, vitamins and minerals and the government has a distribution system called Sahakari Bhandars to get these to us. Facebook wants to use our government system to sell only its branded cocaine and nothing else, on special shops, to people who can’t access any other shop. See here.

This analogy is less dramatic than you think. Sites like facebook and the apps on them tend to be addictive. People spend unproductive hours on them. Will free basics lower the productivity of our people much like cocaine does? Making an internet with only facebook approved sites may be a lot worse than we originally thought.

End of innovation

India is known for its innovation and jugad and coming up with low cost solutions to problems. Remember our Mars mission was the cheapest. Many new start ups have come up in the last decade offering innovative goods and services. All of this will die if facebook has its way because start ups may not be able to afford to or want to meet with facebooks terms and conditions. So low cost innovation will not be available to the poor who need it most.

We are doing fine without free basics

Internet access is growing rapidly in India. We’ve added 100 million users in 2015. Almost all the connections added in India the last 1 year are NOT because of Free Basics. See here.

There are alternatives:
There are various ways of providing free Internet, or cost-effective Internet, to the low-end subscribers. They could be provided some free data with their data connection, or get some free time slots when the traffic on the network is low. 2G data prices can and should be brought down drastically, as the telcos have already made their investments and recovered costs from the subscribers. See here.

There are neutral ways of providing free Internet but Facebook ignores those: Which are the neutral alternatives? Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker has pointed out alternatives:

- subsidising Internet access for users by showing them advertisements
– companies offering free data in the form of coupons, on the basis of the usage of their website
– donation of money to subsidise Internet access for the poor
– and instances of citizens with expensive data plans being charged a nominal fee which can be used to subsidise Internet access for the poor.

Once they get what they want we will have no control over them

Facebook, in spite of having 125 million Indian subscribers, refuses to be sued in India, claiming to be an American company and therefore outside the purview of Indian law. Nor does it pay any tax in India. see here.

Making Indians look bad

Facebook has been trying to make anyone who opposes free basics, appear elitist, selfish and monstrous. This includes Indian entrepreneurs who have started with nothing and made something, professors and educators who have no axe to grind, newspapers and media who have boycotted free basics.

Now who are you going to trust, a corporate giant with a shady track record, desperate to make profits, or fellow countrymen who are trying to ensure this country remains free and its internet remains in our control alone.

To #SaveTheInternet please sign a petition with responses supporting an open and neutral internet to questions posed by TRAI in a consultation paper. Voice your opinion now before it is too late.

This new year I resolve to do what I can to #SaveTheInternet in India. What about you? The clock is ticking. The deadline is 7th January 2016.