Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eye2Eye - Is Free Basics a violation to Net Neutrality? || Dheeraj Lamkhade & Prabhakar Singh || Welingkar Institute of Management & Chandragupt Institute of Management || January 2016 edition


My mom recently started using the Smartphone and I keenly observed her digital content consumption pattern. I installed 2 apps - Whatsapp for communication and Facebook to socialize with her college friends and then as days passed I observed new apps being installed on her phone like Groffers, Inshorts and PayTm. Now five months after she got her 1st smart phone, she buys groceries online, shops online, learns recipes from Youtube, reads about the global happenings on her mobile and pays monthly house bills. Few months ago, when I gifted her the smartphone little did I realise that the device meant for connecting people  would lead her to a whole different world. When asked how she got there, she replies, “By clicking a photo of a Saree on Facebook which opened an app filled with awesome clothes at great prices”. She was referring to Flipkart. From someone who was considered as technologically illiterate, she has come far as now she manages most of her work online. Similarly 90% of Indians have not yet got the opportunity to connect with the world. The reason quoted by McKinseys of the world is poor infrastructure which has led to a low internet penetration. “I feel Facebook’s Free Basics is the Black Hole which will lead millions of Indians to a complete new universe of digitalization.” The real issue is that of differential pricing for the existing users, which affects the fundamental of Net Neutrality. But Facebook is helping in setting up an infrastructure to get new users online. Until and unless the urban youth do not awaken to allow free basics by not protesting against it, the underprivileged will never get the exposure that can drive change and growth.
“Please do not curb the opportunity for millions of youths who have similar passion to grow like us.”

Everyone in a society needs basic services like free basic books, free basic healthcare, free basic education etc. As we are living in a digitalised world where on a single click we would get cornucopia of information and other services which help us in deriving benefits and exploiting opportunities. This is the reason for the inception of free basic by Facebook. Various entities alleged Facebook free basic of violating ‘net neutrality’. If we delve into the definition of net neutrality as per law, indeed free basic is a violation. Net neutrality in its basic form means unbiased and equal internet access to all. However, if we further introspect free basic, we would note that Facebook is providing this platform to a limited and selective set of app developers by partnering with some internet service providers (ISP). This is the main reason why free basic’s adulation turned into admonition. Facebook has partnered with reliance telecom for providing free basics and thus it will help to great hilt reliance subscribers in deriving maximum benefit out of free basic. Also, we are sceptical about Facebook view of providing services free of charges. There is a possibility that in the long run it could charge people for such services as is the expectation in the case of Whatsapp that sooner or later it is going to be chargeable platform. Hence, such services are totally against the Indian purview of net neutrality. If Facebook has really a sacrosanct vision of providing free basic to help the need to avail their economical and fundamental rights, then there are other ways also to do so. Facebook can collaborate with government at both central and state level to create specific sites, information and contents for the needy like farmers, artisans, craftsman etc. Through this it can also impart necessary skills and know-how to such people. Afterwards, roll out free basic services to people having access to these sites only. This step will do more justice to the ‘net neutrality’ and
also serves the objective. So it will be like hitting two birds with one stone.

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