Industry

Internet.org opens platform for developers

Internet.org had partnered with Reliance Communications in February this year  

Facebook has decided to throw open its Internet.org platform to all content and application developers who meet ‘certain guidelines’.

“We’re introducing the Internet.org platform, an open programme for developers to easily create services that integrate with Internet.org. We’re also giving people more choice over the free basic services they can use,” a company release said.

“Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities,” it said. “To do this, we’re going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive,” the release added.

Non-exclusive partnerships with mobile operators to offer free basic Internet services to people through Internet.org would be the key, it said.

Internet.org typically allows subscribers of partner mobile networks to use a limited number of online services without further charge.

Why will network operators participate in it? They join it in the hope that users will pay for wider Internet access once they have had a chance to try out the free content on offer.

Since 2014, the project has been launched in a number of countries such as Zambia, India, Colombia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines and Indonesia.

To access the facility, people must use special Android apps, Internet.org’s website, Facebook’s own Android app or the Opera Mini browser. They include the Wikipedia encyclopaedia, the Facts for Life health site run by the United Nations Children’s Fund, BBC News, Facebook, Accuweather, and a selection of local news and sports results providers.

Facebook is now seeking to widen it by allowing other developers also to join a larger Internet.org platform.

There is, however, a rider. It has set qualifying terms for developers who wish to join the platform.

Websites that require high-bandwidth will not be included. Services should not use VoIP, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos. Also, websites must be built to be optimized for browsing on both feature and smartphones, and in limited bandwidth scenarios. Further, websites must be properly integrated with Internet.org to allow zero rating, and, therefore, can’t require JavaScript or SSL/TLS/HTTPS.

These riders are bound to kick up fresh controversy.

The move to make Internet.org an open platform comes in the wake of a raging row over Net Neutrality. The debate has engulfed a wider section of the population. Even politicians have jumped into the fray, taking radical positions on the debate.

Net Neutrality provides for equal treatment to all traffic on Internet. This essentially means that no priority will be given to any entity or company based on payment to service providers (primarily telecom companies).

The Net Neutrality debate in India has taken a noisier overtone after mobile operator Airtel introduced ‘Airtel Zero’ and in the wake of a consultation paper issued by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) on whether telecom firms can be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of Internet data such as email, Internet browsing and use of apps such as Whatsapp, Viber and Sky.

Internet.org announced its partnership with Reliance Communications in February this year to provide free Internet access to 33 websites as part of its Internet.org initiative. However, the company remains the lone Indian telecom partner as of now on the Internet.org platform. This raised eyebrows with the proponents of free Internet saying that it violated the idea of Net Neutrality. This led to partners such as Cleartrip and NDTV walking out of the initiative as the Net Neutrality debate turned into a virtual war on cyber space.

India has the world’s third largest Internet user base after China and the U.S.

PTI reports

According to Internet.org Vice-President (Product) Chris Daniels, “The principles of neutrality must co-exist with programmes such as Internet.org that encourage bringing people online.”

With the opening up of the platform, people would be able to search and use the services that met these guidelines, he said.

When asked whether Facebook was talking to other telecom operators to join the platform, he said: “I will not say whether we are in discussions or not. We are open to all telecom operators and developers.”  

POINTERS:

1. In India, Internet.org had partnered with Reliance Communications in February this year

2. India has the world’s third largest Internet user base after China and the U.S.



Read: > What is net neutrality?

All you need to know about net neutrality and the controversy:



Net neutrality

Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all traffic and content on their networks equally.

How does net neutrality affect you?

The internet is now a level-playing field. Anybody can start up a website, stream music or use social media with the same amount of data that they have purchased with a particular ISP. But in the absence of neutrality, your ISP might favour certain websites over others for which you might have to pay extra. Website A might load at a faster speed than Website B because your ISP has a deal with Website A that Website B cannot afford. It’s like your electricity company charging you extra for using the washing machine, television and microwave oven above and beyond what you are already paying.

Why now?

Late last month, Trai released a draft consultation paper seeking views from the industry and the general public on the need for regulations for over-the-top (OTT) players such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber etc, security concerns and net neutrality. The objective of this consultation paper, the regulator said, was to analyse the implications of the growth of OTTs and consider whether or not changes were required in the current regulatory framework.

What is an OTT?

OTT or over-the-top refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators' networks offering internet access services. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, e-commerce sites, Ola, Facebook messenger. The OTTs are not bound by any regulations. The Trai is of the view that the lack of regulations poses a threat to security and there’s a need for government’s intervention to ensure a level playing field in terms of regulatory compliance.

Comment

>Privileging telcos over netizens - Prabir Purkayastha The sort of closed Internet that TRAI is proposing, in defiance of the principle of net neutrality, is no longer on the discussion agenda in any country.

>Live Chat: The Hindu conducted a live chat on how net neutrality affects users. The panel included Pranesh Prakash from Centre for Internet and Society, Vijay Anand from The Start Up Centre and Sriram Srinivasan, The Hindu's Business Editor - Online.

Key players

  • Internet Service Providers like Airtel, Vodaphone, Reliance...
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India which lays down the rules for telecom companies
  • The Internet companies like Facebook, Google, whatsapp and other smaller startups
  • You, the consumer

The Hindu Editorials

  • > The importance of Net neutrality: Should the Internet be touched? That's one way to summarise the twenty questions the TRAI has asked the public in a recent consultation paper.
  • > Blow for Net neutrality: Flipkart had to contain the fallout after Airtel Zero was severely criticised by the proponents of Net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic has to be treated equally.

>News analysis: Flipkart and flipside

Is Flipkart so naive not to know the implications of Airtel Zero for the overall Internet ecosystem?

>Here's why you're wrong, Mr. Zuckerberg

The Facebook founder said universal connectivity and net neutrality can co-exist.

>Here's all you need to know on the issue

Missed the debate? A look at the issue of Net neutrality and the controversy surrounding it.

>Telecom Ministry to submit report by May 9

The government has set up a six-member committee to examine the issue of Net neutrality.



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Printable version | May 12, 2021 11:25:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/net-neutrality-internetorg-opens-platform-for-developers/article7170016.ece

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