A WhatsApp message out of the blue. That’s strange, because the usual asshat that I am no one ever texts me…
I sent a subtle “?” Smooth. Right?
“I saw your rant on facebook. About facebook’s free basics being against net neutrality…”
"I kinda remember the big deal about telcos trying to eliminate revenue loss by charging the OTTs and Zero Rated Apps… But what’s your beef with facebook and internet.org? Aren't WhatsApp and Facebook essentially OTTs? Shouldn’t they be relieved?”
And that was the beginning of a long, long evening.
So let’s wrap up all the ‘basics,’ shall we? (See what I did there?)
We all know and love the internet very much. A tad too much, if I may say so seeing my first ‘phone’ was a toy which played music when the buttons were hit and these days 3 year olds play candy crush like pros.
Now, we keep hearing the word data, data transfer, communication protocol and all those high techie sounding things but the basic premise is that everything and anything that moves around in the internet or any network of interconnected computers for that matter, takes the form of packets of information called bits. Be it a video streaming on youtube or a WhatsApp text message, they are essentially the same.
Because internet got so popular the number of people actually using the prepaid text message and call services got lesser and in a country as populated as India, that was a serious loss of customers. So about 6 months ago the telcos got together and recommended TRAI to allow them to charge extra for as they labelled them ‘Over-the-top’ services. That would mean not having the freedom to do everything and anything on the internet. Which in turn means, you guessed it – No net neutrality.
If Net Neutrality is gone, then you’ll have to pay separately for facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, Google etc. besides paying for your regular data pack. And if any of these sites partner with the telco then they get perks. As in, the site can ban or decrease the speed of their competitor’s website over a particular data provider. So if you consider airtel and flipkart partner up, then you are able to browse through flipkart easily through your airtel connection but if you want to buy something from amazon, you’re f**ked. Here’s to the short lived partnership of Airtel Zero and Flipkart!
This idea as absurd as buying milk for ₹15 and then paying an extra ₹5 if you want to make a milkshake out of it. Another ₹5 for tea. And ₹5 for tea. Maybe another ₹10 for paneer and so on…
Thank god that didn’t happen. There were mails sent to the TRAI, supports declared for India’s fight for Net Neutrality and all that. (Ironically, facebook too supported us then)
So where does facebook come into the equation? Wasn’t it one of the beneficiaries? It got to keep its market in India without shelling out any extra cash for partnerships. Well, maybe. But corporates always look at the big picture.
Presenting internet.org, an effing masterstroke if I may say so myself. What facebook had planned all along while still upholding the place card saying ‘I Stand for Net Neutrality’ using it to mask the evil grin underneath was to take over the world. Like Lex Luthor. (Anyone surprised by the fact that Jesse Eisenberg played both Zurkerberg and Luthor) Well, not the real world per-se but the virtual world.
Let me break it down. Facebook through internet.org gives you internet. For free. To connect all those places that still don’t have access to internet with the rest of the world. (God knows who’ll get them smartfones to use it though) Isn’t that a good thing? Actually, no. Because internet.org gives you internet. But not all of the internet. It gives you a select few websites that it thinks are ‘basic.’ Hey, doesn’t that sound like it is… Yes, you guessed it – Against net neutrality.
I think I might have you all confused right now, but what I mean to say is internet.org is trying to change the definition of net neutrality from ‘Everyone must be able to access everything on the internet’ to ‘Everyone must be able to access internet’ by offering free internet to everyone but not free everything once you have free internet.
Again, let me try and illustrate my point. You pay rent to stay in your apartment. Because someone owns the place. But you don’t pay just to exist in the country. No one owns the country. At least, a democracy. The country exists because you live in it.
Similarly, you pay a web hosting service to have your own website. But you don’t pay anyone to have an online presence, a virtual citizenship one might say. Because the internet exists because of the user. But if a company actually ‘owned’ by somebody goes on giving free internet to the people of the world and start dictating what sites it can access and what not, then a person has to pay extra to that private entity just to have his presence recognized in the areas that are granted internet by that private company. This is exactly the kind of thing that has the potential to kill startups. This might eventually blow up into the whole world because hey, who doesn’t love free stuff and that might mean one company actually owns the internet. Global Takeover! Now you know what I mean.
It wasn’t too late before India realized the game good old Zuck was playing and internet.org’s popularity declined. But don’t underestimate the power of a corporate plan. There’s more to it than meets the eye. This was just the tip of the iceberg and after probably a thousand words, I finally come to the topic. (It’s called foreplay you know.)
Free Basics. A repackaged and a seemingly ‘honest’ version of internet.org. Fighting for Digital Equality and Connecting India. Well, if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. Needless to say, this is too.
Following the age old proverb of ‘old wine in a new bottle’ free basics is basically the same thing. Since changing the definition of net neutrality didn’t work out so well let’s try changing the name of the modified definition to something that sounds like net neutrality but is against net neutrality in every way. And then ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Digital Equality.’
In the image there’s a list of so called ‘facts’ about free basics. Let’s see if I can get into it.
Free Basics is open to any carrier and is not chargeable. Okay. But what isn’t said is that facebook reserves the right to reject a carrier from free basics. So there…
Any developer can have their content on free basics. And have all my traffic routed through facebook servers and have my privacy violated? No, thanks.
Nearly 800 developers have signed up for free basics. I can give you 8000 who haven’t. What’s your point?
40% of the people are paying for otherwise free services. Which means 60% are stuck with playing the cards facebook dealt.
Accepted in 36 countries and growing. I’m pretty sure those 36 are African and other 3rd world countries where food is priced but internet is not. The irony. All the more reason for us to fight. For them and for us.
86% supported free basics. 3.2 million signed the online petition. What else can you expect? Spamming the newsfeed with sponsored free basics ads and endless notifications to send a vaguely worded message to the TRAI that can’t be understood by the layman but serves its corporate purpose.
There are no ads in the free basics version of facebook. Dude, everything that is spammed with ads today once started ad free. I don’t see what you’re trying to accomplish here…
Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is we don’t know a lot that’s going on in and around the spectrum but what we do know, we can try to understand. Of course, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. There was a time when even I supported internet.org and if you do really support it go ahead and do send the message. But I think you could spare a moment and think if an unconnected child is to keep up with the world what do you think he needs? Facebook or Google/Wikipedia? And for reasons cited above Google and Wikipedia may choose NOT to join free basics and that not only removes the blame but also gives complete monopoly of the internet to one corporate entity.
Not to rail on many an Indian's dreams of Digital India but this is not the way to achieve it. We once took help from outsiders to solve our problems. Didn't turn out so that well for us now, did it?
The Internet has made many youngster’s lives over the years. All because everything was available to everyone. Let’s keep it that way.