Facebook is claiming in an advertisement that 3.2 mln of its users have sent letters to the TRAI supporting its ‘free basics’ program in the context of the ongoing debate about net neutrality.
However, it did not reveal how many of its users refused to send the email, or at least how many were shown the option of sending the email, which would have given us an indirect way to gauge what percentage of Facebook’s India users support the program and what percentage don’t support it.
For example, if Facebook showed the notification to 50 mln users out of which 25 mln clicked on it and 3.2 mln actually sent the email without changing its content, it would mean that 3.2 out of 25 mln, or about 13% of Facebook users supported Free Basics.
That would also mean that about 87% of Facebook users chose not to click on the ‘send’ button for various reasons, including doubts about what exactly they were being asked to support.
The social network also did not clarify how it figured out that the 3.2 mln people who sent emails using its platform were actually ‘in support’ of its Free Basics program, as many changed the contents of the email to ‘I don’t support Free Basics’, according to testimonies on social media.
So, utill Facebook also reveals how many millions refused to send its email, or sent changed the contents of its email after changing its contents, the 3.2 mln number means very little.
THE DEBATE IN SHORT
The net neutrality debate comprises two parts — actual network neutrality and tariff neutrality.
Network Neutrality means that your telecom operator should treat all data — whether destined for Google, Facebook, Times of India or Hindustan Times — equally and not make some of them fast and some of them slow. Allowing telecom companies such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to speed up the traffic to websites that pay them money and slow down the data going to websites who don’t pay them money will give them the power to decide what website and app you should use.
Tariff Neutrality means all data should be charged the same. In other words, you should be charged the same for each MB of data whether you are buying your items from Paytm or Flipkart or Amazon. This where Facebook’s Free Basics also gets involved.
Activists fear that if there is no tariff neutrality, then again telecom companies will create a ‘special’ Internet which only has websites that pay them, and jack up the tariff for the ‘normal’ Internet so much that most people won’t be able to afford it. The result, they fear, will be that over time 90% of the people will be on this ‘telecom company’ Internet which has only those websites that pay these telecom companies.
For example, this ‘small Internet’ may have Flipkart, but Amazon may be excluded because it doesn’t want to pay telcos. Most worryingly, they say, the rise of such ‘walled garden’ Internets will prevent the rise of new companies on the Internet as they won’t be able to pay the kind of money that Flipkart and Amazon pays to be on this new Internet.
As a result, starting new websites and launching new apps will become extremely costly and difficult as you have to negotiate with each telecom operator separately and keep paying each of them every month.
They see the first signs of such a system in Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’. To be on the platform, any website has to agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions. Companies who have refused to agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions have been kept out of ‘Free Basics’. Websites that have been kept out of Free Basics include Google.com, Naukri.com etc..
Telecom companies and Facebook argue that there is nothing wrong in making people who want the entire Internet pay more than those who want only the websites and apps that they have approved for use — like Free Basics. They say that people who sign up for ‘free Internet’ know exactly what they are getting — a limited set of websites and apps who pay the Internet provider or Facebook.
UPDATE: Facebook will be taking questions on Reddit India today on this topic.
What do you think: Do you think we should continue with both network neutrality and tariff neutrality? [socialpoll id=”2319076″]