Facebook’s campaign to ‘save’ Free Basics in India draws flak
Facebook has started a campaign asking its 125 million Indian users to send an email in support of its controversial Free Basics platform, which was previously known as as Internet.org.
From today morning, Facebook users started getting notifications from friends urging them to send a pre-written message to India’s telecom regulator TRAI to ‘save’ Free Basics and ‘achieve’ digital equality’ in India.
The text of the mesage reads as follows: “To, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, I support digital equality for India. Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile operators. With one billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics — and digital equality for India. Thank you.”‘
The Facebook campaign comes a week after TRAI issued a consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, and invited comments on whether telecom operators should be allowed to have differential pricing for different websites, apps and platforms, until Dec. 31. In April, TRAI had received close to one million petitions on net neutrality.
“For a corporation like Facebook to ask their users to lobby against the government is extremely dangerous,” Kiran Jonnalagadda, one of the founders of the Save the Internet campaign, says. “It is an abuse of power, given that Facebook has a large influence on people’s lives. They are asking users to take political action without giving them an informed opinion.”
Internet.org, the other name for Free Basics, has been criticised for violating net neutrality, because of its limited number of partners and single service provider. Several people also questioned the motives behind Facebook’s campaign on Twitter.
A Facebook spokesperson said that Free Basics is “proven to bring more people online and accelerate full internet adoption.” It added that the campaign intended to let “people speak in support of the one billion people in India who remain unconnected”.