Free Basics Protects Net Neutrality

To connect a billion people, India must choose facts over fiction
In every society , there are certain basic services that are so important for people’s well-being that we expect everyone to be able to access them freely .

We have collections of free basic books. They’re called libraries. They don’t contain every book, but they still provide a world of good.

We have free basic healthcare. Public hospitals don’t offer every treatment, but they still save lives.

We have free basic education. Every child deserves to go to school.

In the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them access all public services, and avail fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic internet services.

We know that when people have access to the internet they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare, communication.We know that for every 10 people connected to the internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty . We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the internet.

That’s not theory . That’s fact.

Another fact ­ when people have access to free basic internet services, they overcome the digital divide.

Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet.Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. And even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives.

Over the last year Facebook has worked with mobile operators, app developers and civil society to overcome these barriers in more than 30 countries, including India. We launched Free Basics, a set of basic internet services for education, healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying for data.

More than 35 operators have launched Free Basics and 15 million people have come online. Half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days.

So the data is clear. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality . Data from more than five years of other programmes that offer free access to Facebook, WhatsApp and other services shows a similar result.

If we accept that everyone deserves access to the internet, then we must surely support free basic internet services. That’s why more than 30 countries have recognised Free Basics as a pro gramme consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers.

Who could possibly be against this?
Surprisingly , over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.

Instead of wanting to give people free access to basic internet services, critics of the programme continue to spread false claims ­ even if that means leaving behind a billion people.

Instead of recognising the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim ­ falsely ­ that this will make the internet more like a walled garden.

Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim ­ falsely ­ that this will give people less choice.

Instead of recognising that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality , they claim ­ falsely ­ the exact opposite.

A few months ago I learnt about a farmer in Maharashtra called Ganesh.

Last year Ganesh started using Free Basics. He found weather information to prepare for monsoon season. He looked up commodity prices to get better deals.Now Ganesh is investing in new crops and livestock.

Critics of free basic internet services should remember that everything we’re doing is about serving people like Ganesh.This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests ­ there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today .

Right now the Trai is inviting the public to help decide whether free basic internet services should be offered in India.

For those who care about India’s future, it’s worth answering some questions to determine what is best for the unconnected in basics

What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women’s rights?
How does Ganesh being able to better tend his crops hurt the internet?
We’ve heard legitimate concerns in the past, and we’ve quickly addressed those. We’re open to other approaches and encourage innovation. But today this programme is creating huge benefits for people and the entire internet ecosystem.

Choose facts over false claims. Everyone deserves access to the internet. Free basic internet services can help achieve this. Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India.

Source: Times of India 28 Dec’2015