Facebook founder defends Internet.org from critics

At a town hall meeting in India, Mark Zuckerberg outlined his ambitious plan to expand Internet access for those communities that are still unable to get online.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) gives a "namaste", a gesture of greeting, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg applauds on stage after a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.

During a conversation at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi on Wednesday, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg reiterated his commitment to providing free Internet services to the world’s poorest communities.

“Our mission is to give every person in the world the power to share what's important to them and connect every person in the world,” he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s visit to India came about a month after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park, California.

During that Modi visit in September, Zuckerberg announced his intention to bring Internet.org to India. He is hoping that the project will achieve more widespread popularity now, under the new, rebranded name of Free Basics.

India is one of Facebook’s largest user bases, with more than 130 million active users.

At the India town hall meeting, Zuckerberg acknowledged this, saying that because India has one of Facebook’s largest user populations, it is important to listen to and understand India’s concerns.

But many Indians are wary that Internet.org is merely a cover for Zuckerberg to get more Indians on Facebook, rather than a means to enable them to access the Internet in its entirety.

“What they say and what they do are two different things.” Nikhil Pahwa, founder of the technology news website Medianama, told Quartz. “What Facebook is doing is to suck internet into Facebook.”

Internet.org has also been criticized for possibly violating net-neutrality agreements. In India, Internet.org has an agreement with Reliance Communications, a telecommunications company, to provide simple services like connectivity and messaging through its platform. Internet.org’s critics are concerned that the agreement Internet.org has with Reliance may block smaller communications companies and developers from gaining access to or selling services through the application.

“It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world's poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services,” a group of developers from all over the world, including India and Pakistan, wrote in an open letter.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy Facebook post detailing his position on net neutrality.

"We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it. Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes – and it never will. We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected," Zuckerberg wrote.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.