Talk on Facebook’s Free Basics : A Threat to Internet Freedom in India” held
HRD Forum of Vidarbha Industries Association, and National Human Resource Development Nagpur Chapter jointly organized Talk on “Facebook’s Free Basics : A Threat to Internet Freedom in India” on 16th January 2016 at VIA. Mr Amlesh Mendhekar, an Information Technology Consultant with over 16 years of IT experience and the founder of Timeline Infosec. His consulting domains include Information Security Management and Enterprise Project Management. He has around 7 years of Training experience in Information Security and Enterprise Project Management. The speaker brought about some of the good points and the short-comings of the Facebook’s Free Basics program and how in the long run it can compromise the Internet Freedom in India.
He said from the past one month there is a great debate going on in India whether to allow platforms like Facebook’s Free Basics in India. The Free Basic platform initiated by Facebook which the company claims as a non-profit initiative aims to bring Internet connectivity to the underprivileged in India and wants to bring Digital Equality. People signing up to the Free Basics program will be able to access few services on internet for free. These services or sites includes the social networking site Facebook, its messenger services and some other services like news, health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information. Although, the initiative looks very good, there are some serious questions and doubts which arises in the way this program is being implemented and thus can be a potential threat to Internet freedom in India.
He discussed the concept of net-neutrality and how the programs like Airtel zero and free Basics are violating the principles of Net-neutrality. Lot of individuals, organizations and trade associations has opposed Free Basics and Airtel Zero type platforms which they feel violates net neutrality principles by differentiating internet access for certain types of services. Prominent among them being NASSCOM and more than 100 IIT and IISc professors. He also discussed about the TRAI’s consultation paper on seeking opinion of the stakeholders on differential pricing for data services. He stressed on the need for creating better and un-biased awareness among people to understand how the regulations can work in favor or against them.
India is a developing country where the internet penetration is still very low. In lieu of providing free internet to the poor, their privacy and security should not be compromised. As the cost of internet access is going down by the day and it’s a matter of time when free open internet can be provided to everyone. The country needs a good regulation and privacy law to avoid exploitation of the privacy information of gullible users for commercial gain.
In differential pricing of the data services, the consumer may end up paying more for the same content and even the developers may have to pay the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to make their content available to people. This will be bad for consumers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, innovators and also for the established players too. Some of the major concerns expressed about the Free Basics platform is the privacy of user data, data encryption issues, right to rejection of content with Facebook, it can give rise to monopoly, unfair competition, developers need to comply with the guidelines of platform, use of advertisements in Free Basics in future, other big players will not want to share their customer data with Facebook.
If Free Basics is allowed, other companies will also have their own version of ‘Free Basics’ which will lead to splintered internet and fractured internet. Internet is backbone of all the businesses today. Keeping in mind its Digital India mission and also the new Startup Initiative the government should initiate steps for providing internet connectivity for everyone but at the same time provide a level playing field for everyone. It should reject the Free Basics in its current format. Wireless spectrum is a public property, the internet should be open and free and it should not be controlled by any commercial organization.
The topics highlighted by him during the lecture were Concept of Facebook’s Free Basics, What Free Basics will offer to people of India, Other zero-rating plans, Concepts of Internet freedom and Net neutrality, Free Basics vs. Net Neutrality, What Facebook is going to gain from Free Basics, The role of the Regulator and What you can do to keep Internet neutral.
Earlier, Shri Girish Deodhar, Chairman – HRD Forum welcomed the speaker and conducted the proceedings. Shri Arvind Jain, National HRD Forum (Nagpur Chapter) introduced the speaker. Shri Ashit Sinha, Vice President – VIA summed up the proceedings and also proposed a vote of thanks. The talk was followed by interesting questions and answers session and aptly answered by the speaker. Prominently present were Dr Amishi Arora, NHRD Nagpur Chapter, Shri Prashant Mohota, VP-VIA, Shri Akash Agrawal, Dr Vijay Phate.