Internet.org Vs Digital India
Indian social media has been on fire since Monday morning, after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed his DP to add the Indian tricolour tint. He did so in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign. Modi had visited Facebook headquarters on Sunday, in his trademark characteristic style, photo ops and catchy quotes.
Internet as a basic necessity –
Internet has joined the likes of food, clothing & shelter as a modem for basic necessity. We are living in a world where internet is being considered a human right, fundamental to planetary knowledge economy and comprehensive development. Democracy isn’t so until it’s a digital democracy, with everyone having more or less equal rights and access to the internet. Needless to say we are new to this concept of digital democracy and the lines are blurred.
The uproar –
Netizens are seeing this as well developed conspiracy by Zuckerberg to create a powerful penetration in India. Internet activists have criticised the Internet.org platform, which has recently been rebranded as Free Basics, to be in violation of the principle of net neutrality that is against any priority being accorded to an entity in internet traffic flow on account of payments to service providers like telecom companies.
The financial and symbolic muscle that Zuckerberg wants to flex via Internet.org will create a parallel universe of tightly controlled digital content, with only 50 or more affiliates as of now. The affiliates, whose services will be freely available along with Facebook on Internet.org, are required to enter into lucrative deals with the master company, and inevitably would score huge points over those who would opt out of the package. That about 800 million smartphone users, who would be paraded as the staggering success of “Digital India”, would be actually connected to only a handful of websites and apps in partnership with Facebook, would mean undemocratic things.
Facebook’s stance –
Facebook has continued to defend the initiative that offers free access to basic internet services to consumers. Facebook released a statement that – “There is absolutely no connection between updating your profile picture for Digital India and registering support for Internet.org”.
India has over 8 lakh users under the Internet.org initiative.
In a recent interview, Mr. Zuckerberg said it is important to get the debate on net neutrality “right” in India as the country is home to the world’s largest population of the “unconnected”. He added that the regulatory framework needs to protect net neutrality for consumers and also ensure that companies are allowed to work on new models for stepping up internet access.
The verdict –
It may be wrong to evaluate Zuckerberg’s intention as evil. But we still need to stay vigilant and alert to protect net neutrality.