Today's Paper

Facebook launches Internet.org in India

India now becomes the sixth destination for Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative envisaged about a year and a half back with six other founding partners, including Samsung and Qualcomm. From left: Chris Daniels, Vice-President of Internet.org at Facebook; Gurdeep Singh, Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Business, Reliance Communications; and Markku Makelainen, Director, Global Operator Partnerships, Facebook, at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday.— PHOTO: PAUL NORONHA

India now becomes the sixth destination for Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative envisaged about a year and a half back with six other founding partners, including Samsung and Qualcomm. From left: Chris Daniels, Vice-President of Internet.org at Facebook; Gurdeep Singh, Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Business, Reliance Communications; and Markku Makelainen, Director, Global Operator Partnerships, Facebook, at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday.— PHOTO: PAUL NORONHA  

Joins hands with Reliance Communications. Move spurs neutrality concerns

Facebook on Tuesday announced a tie-up with Reliance Communications to launch Internet.org in India, bringing to the land of a billion-plus people a service that the social media giant says helps affordable Internet access but whose critics disapprove its restrictiveness.

India now becomes the sixth destination for Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative envisaged about a year-and-a-half back with six other founding partners, including Samsung and Qualcomm. The service has already been launched in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia and Ghana.

Facebook’s 30-year-old founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the development on his social network. He posted, “More than a billion people in India don’t have access to the internet. That means they can’t enjoy the same opportunities many of us take for granted, and the entire world is robbed of their ideas and creativity.”

The tie-up gives subscribers of the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications who have Internet-enabled handsets free access to 38 Websites – a mix of news, music, education, weather and health sites. The list includes Facebook, Wikipedia, and Reliance Astrology. The lone search option available is Microsoft’s Bing. They can be accessed via an Android app.

For the time being, the service has gone live in Maharashtra, Gujarat, A.P., T.N. and Kerala.

The pan-India launch is planned in three months.

Gurdeep Singh, CEO, Consumer Business, Reliance Communications, said during the launch in Mumbai, “This partnership will not only accelerate internet penetration In India, it will also open new socioeconomic opportunities to users in fields like education, information and commerce.”

Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org at Facebook, said, “This is a big step forward in our efforts to connect every one in India to the internet.” Critics, however, see little altruism in Internet.org.

Lawyer Prashant Reddy said, “It will be interesting to see how Trai (the regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) handles such deals, and whether the market will accuse both these players of violating network neutrality.”

Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director of the Bangalore-based research and advocacy organisation The Centre for Internet & Society, said he is worried about the long-term consequences. “The Internet.org model violates most definitions of net neutrality, as it provides access to a limited menu of services claiming to be the Internet — being based on a cable TV model — rather than providing actual access to the Internet at a low cost.”

Independent telecom consultant Kunal Bajaj, however, doesn’t believe the initiative hinders Net neutrality. That would be the case, he said, if they are “charging more” selectively or “deteriorating quality” selectively.

(With inputs from Sanjay Vijayakumar)

Recommended for you