India Bans Facebook’s Free Internet Platform Over Net Neutrality Concerns

India’s national telecom regulator has banned Mark Zuckerberg’s “free” internet endeavour for violating net neutrality. Free Basics, formerly known as Internet.org, was designed to bring free internet to developing countries, but access to websites was restricted to Facebook’s commercial partners, meaning Free Basics users could only visit sites that had paid to be featured.

“No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has ruled (via BBC News).

The World Wide Web Foundation, created by WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee, has welcomed the ruling. “The message is clear: We can’t create a two-tier Internet – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots,” Programme Manager Renata Avila said. “We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open Web. We call on companies and the government of India to work with citizens and civil society to explore new approaches to connect everyone as active users, whether through free data allowances, public access schemes or other innovative approaches.”

While Zuckerberg has maintained throughout that Free Basics adheres to net neutrality rules – “Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim–falsely–the exact opposite,” he blustered back in December – a Facebook spokesperson claims that the company will work to ensure that its free internet initiative complies with net neutrality.

“Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. “While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings.”

Zuckerberg Shocked India Doesn’t Appreciate His Free Internet

The Internet.org “free internet” initiative – now known as Free Basics – is under threat of closure by Indian authorities, but its founder, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, doesn’t get why India isn’t grateful for his efforts. The Time of India reports that the country’s telecoms regulator is putting pressure on Reliance to cease carrying Internet.org over fears that its “walled garden” structure – allowing only sites that are paid-up partners with Free Basics to be accessible to users – is anathema to the idea of a free and open internet.

Zuckerberg has now responded to the controversy, insisting that his vision for Internet.org is purely philanthropic, and lamenting the fact that no one seems to see that but him. “Who could possibly be against this?” he begs in a Times of India op-ed. “Surprisingly, over the last year, there’s been a big debate about this in India.”

“Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims–even if that means leaving behind a billion people,” Zuckerberg says. “Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim–falsely–that this will make the internet more like a walled garden.”

“Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim–falsely–that this will give people less choice,” he argues. “Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim–falsely–the exact opposite.”

Many, including figures within the India government, disagree with Zuckerberg’s appraisal, with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik arguing in a letter to Indian regulators: “While the underprivileged deserve much more than what is available, nobody should decide what exactly are their requirements. If you dictate what the poor should get, you take away their rights to choose what they think is best for them.”

World Wide Web Inventor Says “No” to Internet.org

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web infrastructure for the internet, is vehemently opposed to Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org plan to bring a limited internet to poor countries, an initiative that has long been criticised for violating net neutrality and branded an internet “ghetto”.

“When it comes to compromising on net neutrality, I tend to say ‘just say no’,” Berners-Lee said, regarding Internet.org. “In the particular case of somebody who’s offering […] something which is branded internet, it’s not internet, then you just say no. No it isn’t free, no it isn’t in the public domain, there are other ways of reducing the price of internet connectivity and giving something […] [only] giving people data connectivity to part of the network deliberately, I think is a step backwards.”

After getting so much bad press, Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, changed the name of Internet.org, which launched last year, to ‘Free Basics’, but the same problems remain. Users will only be given access to sites that Free Basics deems appropriate – likely those that sign up to financial agreements with the initiative – restricting free use of the internet, flagrantly flouting the rules of net neutrality. Free Basics is still operating in India, despite a walkout by a number of its publisher partners.

Thank you Times of India for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Internet.org Is a Two-Tiered Ghetto For the Internet’s Poor

A coalition of internet advocacy groups from 31 countries has formed to stand against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “free” internet project, Internet.org. In an open letter, supported by groups from India, Colombia, Uganda, and Iceland, to name but a few, Internet.org is branded a “walled garden” that keeps the poor segregated from normal internet users, with corporations and businesses deciding what users can and cannot see, in a flagrant flouting of the principles of net neutrality.

“In its present conception,” the letter reads, “Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

“We urge Facebook to assert its support for a true definition of net neutrality in which all applications and services are treated equally and without discrimination — especially in the majority world, where the next three billion internet users are coming online — and to address the significant privacy and security flaws inherent in the current iteration of Internet.org.”

Another major worry is that Internet.org prohibits the use of TLS (Transport Layer Security), Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or HTTPS encryption by its partners, leaving both services and users vulnerable to attack. Though Zuckerberg has paid lip service to both net neutrality and online security as recently as 4th May, the entire premise of Internet.org as it stands is not conducive to either. In its current guise, it can only ever be an internet ghetto where the poor are exploited as commodities in exchange for limited and heavily controlled internet access.

Thank you Silicon Republic for providing us with this information.

Internet.org Gets Trashed by Global Internet Activists

Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire Facebook founder, recently unveiled plans to offer a ‘free’ internet – essentially a sponsored internet portal through which limited filtered content can be viewed – to the world’s poor through his Internet.org endeavour.

A group of internet activists from around the world, however, have taken exception to the idea, accusing Zuckerberg of treating the poor as a lower class who don’t deserve to benefit from net neutrality, all in the name of ‘free’ internet; free from cost, but not free from corporate control. Digital rights activists across the globe have, quite rightly, accused Zuckerberg of attempting to violate the concept of an open internet.

Brazilian activists have written to President Dilma Rousseff, an advocate of Internet.org, to protest, saying, “We believe this project … could jeopardize the future of Brazil’s information society, the digital economy and the rights of users on the network, such as privacy, freedom of expression and Net Neutrality.”

The e-mail, written by Cristiana Gonzalez of the University of Sao Paulo, continued, “If defending Net Neutrality is a challenge, try convincing policymakers that there are better solutions to affordable access than offering the ‘free Internet’ via cellphones.”

In Nairobi, tech entrepreneur Ali Hussein Kassim said, “The Googles and Facebooks of the world can lure local users onto their global sites and platforms, but what happens to local Internet entrepreneurs who are trying to launch their own online businesses and services?”

“It’s like inviting me into your house and telling me that I can do this and that,” Kassim added. “People like us will continue pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing until they hear us. We will not give up.”

Zuckerberg, in a particularly pissy rebuttal to criticism, said last week, “We have to ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be? Are we a community that values people and improving people’s lives above all else? Or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?”

Niels ten Oever, head of digital for free speech group Article 19, was one of many who took exception to Zuckerberg’s rhetoric, responding, “It’s not the community of people that are fighting for Net Neutrality that are depriving people of full Internet connectivity. It’s the telcos, companies and governments that have the capacity and resources to do so, but who don’t.”

Zuckerberg does not want to bring free internet to the masses, he wants to inflate his Facebook userbase and monetise an untapped resource. The sooner he is honest about that, the better.

Thank you Moyers & Company for providing us with this information.

Internet.Org, What Is It And Whats Happening?

Internet.org has been in the online news a lot recently, but what is it and why is it in the news?

Internet.org is a scheme created by Facebooks Founder Mark Zuckerberg, the aim of which is to provide free internet access to several countries, hopefully reaching at least 5 billion people who currently don’t have access to it. Currently offering free mobile internet access to people in India, Zambia, Colombia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In order to access the free internet, however, users must use either facebook’s Android app, the Opera Mini web browser, Internet.org’s website or special Android Apps. This in conjunction with the limited number of sites that were available through the services, including Facebook, Wikipedia and BBC news, #and the Facts for Life health site run by the United Nations Children’s Fund among the initial 38 accessible websites. This limitation caused several companies to doubt the scheme and even pull out as it was seen in conflict with the concept of “Net Neutrality”, a phrase that has been used a lot in recent days to describe the concept that all internet traffic is equal and all sites are equal, so charging extra or forcing users to use certain sites would be against the concept (one which Tim Berners-Lee, regarded as one of the founders of the internet has spoke up about).

The scheme was recently opened up allowing for developers to join the Internet.org Platform and create their websites and services to be run through the Internet.org scheme. These do come with limitations though:

  • Websites must not be data heavy – this means that websites which use a lot of high-quality images, videos or real-time voice and video chat based systems are banned from the scheme.
  • Websites must be able to run on both high-end and low-end smartphones – to allow this, certain web-based products and services are banned. Javascript and Flash Files being amongst the banned content.
  • No Encrypted connections – Currently the Internet.org platform does not support HTTPS (SSL/TLS), the systems used to guarantee a secure connection with a certain connection such as Outlook or your bank’s website. This is due to the web traffic currently going through internet.org’s proxy servers, meaning that all services currently utilizing encryption are rejected from the scheme.

In regards to the last limitation, Zuckerberg has stated that they need to do some work on the service to allow HTTPS and SSL to work on all phones and browsers, so it will be available soon.

In an online video announcing the platform, Zuckerberg talked about the principle of Net Neutrality and stated that,

“Its not sustainable to offer the whole internet for free though. It costs tens of billions of dollars every year to run the internet and no operator could afford this if everything were free.

But it is sustainable to build free basic services, that are simpler, use less data and work on all low end phones. “

Zuckerberg goes on to explain that the Internet.org version of Facebook removed images and videos in order to use less data and work on low-end phones.

So what do you think? It’s good that the internet is being brought to many who would otherwise be able to afford and access it but does the concept of Net Neutrality conflict with how the scheme works? Should Net Neutrality exist and if so should there be a limit?

Information Courtesy of The Register and Hacker news.

Facebooks’s Internet.org to Bring Internet to Africa

Yet another awesome step forward for global connectivity, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cemented his last year claim that a specialised team are working on building drones, lasers and satellites to deliver internet to everyone; today at the Mobile World Congress.

During his presentation, he spent a substantial amount of time discussing the Facebook-backed nonprofit Internet.org, which aims to bring free internet access to four African countries, along with Columbia and India.

“We’re working on it,” Zuckerberg said. “When we have that stuff, the goal is to form the same type of partnerships we have today with our partners to give people more tools to connect. Some of the technology we have today isn’t cost effective… just because we’re working on plans and satellites doesn’t mean that that is the type of stuff that will do it. Over the next five to 10 years, there will be a lot of innovation. People like talking about that kind of stuff because it’s sexy, but it’s not the big bit”

This seems oh so familiar to the earlier presentation from Google’s Senior VP Sundar Pichai (found here), who stated that they are also gearing up to launch solar-powered, internet giving drones in certain countries later this year. When asked about a possible collaboration with Google, his response was “Sure. I’d love to do more with them”.Internet.org first launched in Zambia, teaming up with a local operating partner and incorporated Google search, calling it an “important tool.”

Probably the most profound statement from his presentation “To grow the Internet is expensive… we want to make progress.”

Thanks to Mashable for supplying this information

Virgin Joining Race To Accessible Internet With “Most Satellites Ever”

Virgin is joining the race to provide internet access everywhere by “creating the world’s largest satellite constellation”. Joining the ranks of Facebook with its internet.org and Google with its Project Loon, Virgin aims to provide high speed internet to “billions”.

Virgin founder Richard Branson said in a blog post that the company will be utilising “Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne programme” to make satellite launches cheaper and easier than ever.

“Delighted to share news of an incredibly exciting project that could transform the world: we are creating a new constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who don’t currently have access.” 

Together with Qualcomm, Virgin has formed OneWeb Ltd, a company that will utilise the technology and infrastructure built for Virgin Galactic to get so many satellites into space. They say that the initiative will eventually provide internet access to three billion people who could not access it before.

This project is one of a number of global internet initiatives, like Facebook’s internet.org mobile internet project and Google’s Project Loon, which aims to provide remote internet access via giant weather balloons. Microsoft also pitched in recently with its plan to use TV spectrum in India.

Source: Virgin 

Facebook Make a Stand for Equality in Zambia

Everybody deserves equality and it starts by understanding your basic human rights. Facebook and Internet.org are now making a stand for women rights in Zambia with their new app. It gives free internet access for people without a data plan, to access resources like MAMA, WRAPP and Facts For Life by UNICEF.

MAMA provides critical health information to new and expecting mothers. Facts For Life offers tactical tips for handling pregnancy, childbirth, childhood illnesses and childcare. WRAPP helps Zambian women to learn about what their rights are, what legislation protects those rights and what to do if those rights are violated.

It launched this week and Facebook worked with the local government and the Zambian carrier Airtel to identify the needs and bake them into Internet.org’s new app. It is both a standalone Android app and a mobile-website available on the feature phones most Zambians carry. The Facebook for Android app will also get a tab for it.

The app gives free access to a limited number of Internet services including Facebook, Wikipedia and Google Search as well as local info on weather, jobs, government, and human rights. Airtel hopes the free plan will influence people to buy a data plan to gain access to the rest of the internet.

“’Women’s access to technology – and their ability to use it to shape and drive change in their communities – is critical to gender equality” says Global Fund for Women’s President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro. “This technology will give voice to millions of people, including women, in Zambia, Africa and the whole world, and empower them to share ideas, drive innovation, and build more inclusive and democratic societies.”

Most women in African countries don’t have a data plan, so it is easy to see how this can have a huge impact on their rights and the overall equality. Facebook plans to roll out the app to more countries, but it is a fine line for them to walk. Other parts of Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, where gender discrimination is more institutionalized and women have historically been oppressed, might not welcome the app with open arms. It is however a fight worth fighting.

Thank you TechCrunch for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Facebook

Facebook Joins GSMA To Become An Active Member Of Wireless Trade Group

Facebook has joined the GSMA, which for short is a group composed of mobile operators and other interested technology partners who work in standardizing and promoting the GSM cellular system.

GSMA spokeswoman Claire Cranton told FierceWireless that “Facebook is obviously a significant player in the mobile ecosystem, so a relationship with Facebook is important as the GSMA strives to deliver programs on behalf of our mobile operator members.” She said the organization has had “an ongoing relationship with Facebook for several years and we are pleased that Facebook has taken the decision to join the GSMA.” She also said the group “will look to engage with Facebook in programs that are mutually beneficial.”

In August Facebook forged a partnership with industry heavyweights like Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia , Opera Software, Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics to launch Internet.org, a coalition dedicated to expanding online access via mobile. Facebook does not own any wireless spectrum or cell towers, but Cranton stated that if it were to acquire spectrum and “is allocated frequencies to operate a GSM network for the purpose of providing publicly available commercial services it would become eligible for full membership. At present Facebook has joined the GSMA as an associate member” but are also “look forward to playing an active role as a member.”

Facebook’s plans are getting clearer when looking at the leap towards the GSM area and the continuous expansion of Internet.org, however its influence in the association is likely to be felt when looking at the current 1000+ members.

Thank you The Verge and Fierce Wireless for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of BBC UK

Facebook Acquires ‘Onavo’ To Help Improve Web Efficiency

Data is important, especially when it comes to mobile devices where users are often limited on how much they use per month, how fast they can download that data and of course how much that data costs to transmit. With mobiles these days capable or churning through gigabytes of data per month and consumer demand ever growing, it has never been so important to keep a tab on that usage.

Onavo have been helping consumers track data usage for years now, which is exactly why Facebook has just scooped up the Israeli startup in a bid to reduce their own data usage, something they hope will in turn make their apps faster and friendlier for consumers.

Facebook plans to work with Onavo and the Internet.org coalition to improve the efficiency of web access, which should in turn also lower the cost.

Current Onavo and of course new Onavo app users will still get the same service as always as the brand name will continue, the only change here is that Facebook services should start reaping the rewards to more optimisations in the near future.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Engadget.