When Mark Zuckerberg spoke at IIT Delhi in October, he may have said that Facebook was a big proponent of net neutrality but the social network has just gone on to extend its “Free Basics” services to Reliance Communications’ mobile subscribers across the country allowing them free access to a privileged set of 80-plus apps and websites.
“As of today, everyone in India nationwide can access free internet services for health, education, jobs and communication through Internet.org’s Free Basics app on the Reliance network,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, in a post.
In February this year, Reliance Communications had partnered with Facebook to offer free data access for a select number of websites in the telecom circles of Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The list of free sites/services included Facebook, Facebook Messenger, TimesJobs, Wikipedia, Reuters Market Lite, and Jagran Josh, among others, with zero data charges on both 2G and 3G networks. Customers can access these websites at Internet.org or from the Internet.org Android app.
Most of the services will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi.
The Free Basics initiative, earlier called Internet.org, had received a lot of flak with activists alleging that it violates network neutrality or the idea that all online traffic should be treated equally.
In April this year, telecom giant Airtel was on the backfoot trying to explain the relevance of its controversial platform Airtel Zero which promised free consumer browsing and special promotional campaigns for companies which subscribed to the plan even as e-commerce startup walked out of the platform. Telecom major Vodafone too had to clear its stand on the issue saying it was against carving or blocking the internet.
Following this, Facebook tweaked its initiative and rebranded it as Free Basics in September. The platform was opened for any app developer who wished to include his/her services on it.
“We do a lot to support (net neutrality) in terms of regulations, we are working on building an open framework. We lobby for it (net neutrality) across the world but at the same time, we continue to push for access,” Zuckerberg had said at the Town Hall Q&A session in IIT-Delhi, trying to balance between the two positions.