Indian companies pulling out of Facebook’s Internet.org over net neutrality

16 Apr 2015

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Despite being heralded as the largest test-bed for Facebook’s global internet coverage project, Indian companies are now pulling out left, right and centre over fears that it infringes net neutrality.

It is more than two months since Facebook announced that it was to launch Internet.org on the Reliance mobile network, allowing subscribers to it to access a range of services, particularly news.

Now, however, news has emerged that Cleartrip, an Indian travel start-up, has pulled its services from the Facebook project. which was dubbed as a charity effort to connect regions of the world who would not normally get access to the internet, but who now could with the help of giant solar-powered drones flying above.

According to The Verge, Cleartrip’s pullout aligned it with the previous Indian Internet.org coalition, which included NDTV, Newshunt, and the Times Group, which also decided to completely, or at least partially, end their connection with Facebook over what they see as an infringement of net neutrality.

Going by Cleartrip’s statement on the decision, the reasoning for joining the Indian Internet.org coalition made sense at the time, but, soon after, issues arose that appeared to show potential bias of services.

“The recent debate around #NetNeutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast,” said the Cleartrip statement. “What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA.”

Zuckerberg: any internet is better than no internet

The debate that Cleartrip references refers to the recent furore in India regarding another Indian mobile network, Airtel, introducing a service called Airtel Zero, which would offer customers free internet, much like Internet.org, but would ask services to offset their costs, effectively, and in return offer their services.

FlipKart, an Indian e-commerce company, decided to pull its services from Airtel Zero, much in the same way that Cleartrip left Internet.org.

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has since responded to these accusations, citing the defence that any internet is better than no internet.

“I think net neutrality is important to make sure network operators don’t discriminate and limit access to services people want to use, especially in countries where most people are online," he wrote during an online Q&A session. "For people who are not on the internet, though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all.”

Internet sign in India image via twitter.com/mattwi1s0n/Flickr

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Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com