Internet.org, affordable internet access at what cost?

internet.org

Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.’

A new App developed between social networking service Facebook and several mobile phone companies including Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia was launch in 2013 to provide ‘free’ Internet access to ‘developing’ countries that are coping with expensive service plans, limited power sources and networks that cannot support large amounts of data. The app is now available in Ghana, Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, and only until recently, India.

India has pulled out from the initiative on the grounds that the principle of ‘net neutrality’ could be breached. Net neutrality is the leading principle of the open Internet where nobody owns the flow of information. The business initiative lead by Internet.org will effectively amount to ownership of the internet through control of the market forces (i.e., large telecom companies) that makes the information available, as well as the information that is available (i.e., publishers and content providers). The bill for the free access will be picked up by the company that the information provided relates to. Inevitably, this will favour those with deeper pockets. By creating the web for two thirds of the world’s population that currently does not have Internet access, the business initiative will effectively own two thirds of the world’s Internet.  What will become of net neutrality? What are the implications of the net no longer being neutral?

In practical terms, Internet.org users will have to purchase a smart phone to be able to access the web services available for free. Importantly, not all sites are free and the user will receive a warning if they stray onto sites that apply charges. Which sites are available and which are not will depend on app developers to be able to afford paying data charges. Consequently, start-up developers with small pockets could be at commercial disadvantage.

Mr Zuckerberg defended Internet.org by declaring: ‘Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected […] We will never prevent people accessing other services’.  Of course, Internet.org will not be the agent preventing Internet access, but a situation of extreme poverty. Again the rich will be able to navigate freely and the poor will be stuck with free Facebook and a set of health, weather, employment and local information services.

However, is Internet.org better than nothing? In the short term, getting a little bit of internet is better than getting none at all, but what about the long term implications? Might it delay or stop the push for delivering proper internet infrastructure to the poor?

 

4 thoughts on “Internet.org, affordable internet access at what cost?”

  1. I do have to make some clarification. Technically, I feel Zuckerberg is correct about Net Neutrality. The interpretation of Net Neutrality in the above blog is not completely clear. Internet.org does not have much implications to Net Neutrality unless Zuckerberg has put the Internet pipes in the country where he is offering free access to Facebook and limited other sites through those network pipes only, most unlikely. Net Neutrality is the position that is taken by all Internet pipe (network capacity) providers to NOT prioritize any traffic when the packets go through the pipes… small businesses, Netflix, YouTube, educational content, big business or smut. So, based on that technical definition Internet.org does not have much to do with that traffic but it possibly filters through firewalls (just like many ISPs do) to incoming and outgoing packets from their users unless they pay extra to go through the firewall for general internet content. Internet.org brings access to people who do not have, ethical issues aside, even the limited exposure to network (Facebook) but does not limit users to get on the public Internet (for a ramp fee) if they want. I feel that it is not compromising on Net Neutrality. However, Internet.org might affect behavior of both users and many businesses if that is the only channel through which users have to interact on the net. I feel having a little access now is better than having no access at all especially when the world is moving towards the connected world. The future of access to whole of Internet for these users is to be properly planned and delivered by the regional authorities.

  2. Dear Kini, Thanks so much for commenting on the post. Just today an interesting article has come out at The Independent that may clarify why we are interpreting Net Neutrality differently:

    [How is European net neutrality different to the US?

    In the US, recent attempts to enshrine net neutrality in legislation have failed and ISPs like Comcast and Verizon have begun charging certain content providers more to handle their data – with Netflix being a notable example.

    The ISPs claim these tolls are necessary to pay for the extra data they’re handling, but net neutrality advocates say it’s just the thin end of the wedge, and that paying for better connections opens the way to all sorts of exploitative practices including, perhaps, the creation of a ‘two-tiered’ internet.

    David Meyer, the European correspondent for tech site Gigaom, says that both consumers and internet companies will now be much better off in the EU than the US. “In the US, operators are free to degrade services that don’t suit their business interests, which is not in the interests of the consumer. New entrants to the market can also be disadvantaged there because they don’t have enough money to pay ISPs to deliver their services at a reasonable quality.”]

    It looks as if Net Neutrality may be more neutral depending on the side of the planet you are looking at it 🙂

    Kind Regards
    Elvira

  3. Update on the continuing saga of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. As response to various criticisms that the Internet.org app that Facebook is putting out is misleading people by offering a walled garden segment of the internet while, by its very name, suggesting that it gives access the The Internet, Facebook as decided to re-brand the app from Internet.org app to “Free Basics by Facebook” app.
    http://www.wired.com/2015/09/facebook-renames-controversial-internet-org-app

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