Modi’s Facebook HQ visit brings net neutrality into focus

Ever since Mark Zuckerberg changed his Facebook profile picture to a tricolour shade in support of the Modi-government’s Digital India initiative, the social network’s users in the country have been split down the middle on the issue, with many saying the gesture indirectly promotes, which allegedly violates net neutrality. While several changed their pictures, including PM Modi, many others didn't. This has restarted the debate on net neutrality an whether or not platforms such as Facebook's should be allowed -- an issue that the Modi-government appointed expert panel has also looked into. The telecom regulator TRAI is expected to submit a report on net neutrality in a couple of months., recently rebranded as Free Basics by Facebook, aims to bring Internet services to areas that are still not connected in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm. However, it has been widely criticised for violating net neutrality principles and favouring Facebook’s own services over its rivals.

In India, which has the largest Facebook user base outside the U.S., Facebook partnered with Reliance Communications to provide free access to select websites. In the wake of the controversy over the initiative, a lot of these websites such as Cleartrip, Times Group, Flipkart and Ndtv opted out of to voice their support for net neutrality.

Questions are also being raised on why Facebook did not take up the issue of net neutrality during its 45-minute townhall Q&A with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite a lot of users posting questions on the subject on Mr. Zuckerberg’s home page.

Mr. Zuckerberg's post on the townhall featured comments and questions on net neutrality. Facebook had received over 40,000 comments from users for the event.

This has again put the spotlight on Facebook’s stand on net neutrality – basically, the principle that service providers should treat all data on the Internet equally and not discriminate against, or charge differently, any website or service.

“Until April 2015, users could have free access for only a few websites, and Facebook’s role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were in that list was seen as violating net neutrality. In early May 2015, due to severe criticism, Facebook announced that the platform would be opened to websites that met its criteria,” stated the report by a Telecom Ministry panel on the subject on net neutrality.

The government, after a public uproar over the subject, had formed an expert panel to look into the subject.

The panel in its 111-page report opposed the platform stating, “content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value, even if it is for an ostensible public purpose.”

Facebook for its part said acted as a “gateway, as opposed to gatekeeper, to Internet access by breaking down the cost, infrastructure and social barriers that exist today.”

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Printable version | Oct 12, 2021 6:39:28 PM |

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