Defending its position on net neutrality, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Friday said its Internet.org – a platform, with Reliance Communications as its India partner, which offers free access to data and customers and – has benefited several people in the country.
Similarly, Bharti Airtel, whose Airtel Zero venture was also drawn into the debate, said it is completely committed to net neutrality.
Zuckerberg mentioned in his Facebook post: "Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about Internet.org and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see."
"We’ve made some great progress, and already more than 800 million people in 9 countries can now access free basic services through Internet.org," he said.
"In India, we’ve already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana. And we just launched in Indonesia on the Indosat network today (Friday)," Zuckerberg added.
Net neutrality means that governments and internet service providers should treat all data on the internet equally, thereby not charging users, content, platforms, sites, applications or modes of communication differentially.
"We’re proud of this progress. But some people have criticised the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this."
"We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it," he said.
"But net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — universal connectivity and net neutrality — can and must coexist," he stated.
The Facebook chief clarified: "Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes — and it never will. We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected."
Reacting to the ongoing debate on net neutrality, Bharti Airtel said: "Over the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality."
"Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers, we charge the providers who choose to get onto the platform," Bharti Airtel managing director and chief executive officer (India and South Asia) Gopal Vittal said in a letter to employees.
Vittal clarified that the platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis.
"The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non-discriminatory basis."
"There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet the better it is for our business."
"Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited," Vittal added.
He mentioned that the company stands fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister’s vision of digital India are met.