Free Basics Vs. Free Internet: The Net Neutrality Debate Rages To Its Height

Over the past couple of month the virtual world is seemingly flooded with both positive and negative opinions about Free Basics. As the non-profit initiative of Facebook, Free Basics emerged as a radical way to bring Internet connectivity to the underprivileged in developing regions. However, the noble initiative on Facebook’s part has not received a warm welcome in India. Instead, it has run into trouble in our country where the concept of Free Basics is turned down on account of falsity.

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Free Basics is introduced as a concept that promotes the idea of Net Neutrality, according to which a public network should treat all content, sites, and platforms alike. It’s around this equation, the debate is actually raging in India and the world.

So what is Net Neutrality?

As stated earlier, the idea of net neutrality is to treat all sites equally, irrespective of its content. Accordingly, it says that everyone should get a fair chance at growth, and thus rejects the idea of monopolies.

What Sparks the Debate: The Background?

As an introductory initiative, the concept of Free Basics had received a cordial acceptance. It was so until the leading telecom provider Airtel must blocked or throttled the access to specific service on its network, even if Airtel directly or indirectly (via one of its partners) competes with the service. Alongside, offering a limited set of services for free (with no data charges), such an act of Airtel clearly revealed the fact, which is apparently being considered against the concept of net neutrality. During that time, Airtel and other leading service provider were literally edging out non-partnered services.

The Debate Developments

Earlier this decade, the obvious point that stirs the debate essentially revolves around data throttling, a practice which allows Internet service providers partnering with certain apps and websites to offer faster access to their users, and a slow or blocked access to rival apps and websites. Following this, Free Basics was right away outlawed in many countries, and almost everyone discard it as a falsity to the concept of free and fair Internet.

However, the debate reaches the height most recently, when it’s shifted from a no-throttling and no-blocking clause to zero-rating platforms. According to this, where operators do not count the traffic generated by their own or partners’ services against the end-users’ monthly data caps. Now that the telecom providers are offering certain services for free, the other players are subjected to mammoth disadvantage. Thus, internet is turned into something like a cable TV subscription service with packages a user can subscribe in essence.

So, what is Facebook’s Free Basics?

In the first place, what’s needed to be considered is that there’s no existence of Free Basics until September 2015. Formerly, it was known as Internet.org. The initiative aims at providing free access to the Internet to the underprivileged in developing nations. Facebook has launched the initiative in 15 nations thus far, including India, where it debuted Internet.org, in the running year, as a partner of RCom, the fourth largest carrier in the country.

Earlier this year, Airtel introduced a new service named Airtel Zero that offered subscribers free access to certain apps and services. According to this program, the cost of data traffic was apparently to be incurred by the app maker or service provider.

What’s the problem with Free Basics?

The core idea of Free Basics is that it is a zero-rating platform, according t which it is literally providing free access to a limited number of services, but not to all. That it’s not actually offering free/ no charge unlimited access to the Internet to people, but access to a very small subsection of the Internet. In India, for instance, the company with RCom was supposed to offer access to 38 websites and services, which include news providers, entertainment websites, and some infotainment websites, but each of the competitors was simply edged out.

The heat of the moment is significantly high at this point of time, though a concrete resolution has not yet been reached.

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