Facebook Inc.’s free-but-limited Internet plan in partnership with a domestic carrier in India violates the spirit of net neutrality, according to the initial consensus within the country’s telecommunications ministry, the Times of India newspaper reported. The ministry has set up a “high-level committee” to create rules governing net neutrality in the nation, the paper said.
Facebook’s Internet.org app offers free access to a clutch of popular services and websites. The social-media giant has replicated this model in several developing countries that represent potentially huge markets for it in the future. In India, it has partnered with Reliance Communications Ltd., the nation’s fourth-largest carrier. Subscribers need to download the Internet.org app to access the services included.
Facebook’s effort has become embroiled in a divisive issue around the world as the app’s opponents see it as an attempt to influence how people access the Internet. Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued Internet.org provides some access in places where there was none.
Users of the app have free access only to the services and sites that have agreed to work with Internet.org. Such plans are frequently called zero-rate plans as they charge nothing to consumers within the bounds of the limited access.
Some companies that initially agreed to work with Internet.org in India -- such as the country’s top local-language content startup NewsHunt, media group NDTV Ltd. and travel site Cleartrip -- decided to abandon it, announcing they were in favor of a free Internet. Times Group, the publisher of the Times of India newspaper, said it also would leave Internet.org should all its competitors join it in doing so.
India’s telecom ministry is currently studying the issue, and it is veering toward the “strong view” that zero-rate plans, such as those offered by Bharti Airtel Ltd., the nation’s top wireless carrier, also violate the spirit of net neutrality, the Times of India reported, citing “top sources” within the ministry.
A “Save the Internet” campaign in India resulted in about a million petitioners emailing the country’s top telecom regulator opposing proposals to give carriers the right to charge subscribers based on how they used their data, rather than on volume of data consumed.