Facebook might be rolling out Internet.org in India in partnership with Reliance Communications: On Feb 3rd, while accessing Internet.org over WiFi in India, we got the following message:

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On being contacted by MediaNama, a Facebook representative told us that they wouldn’t like to comment on this. Since then, this page now gets redirected to the Internet.org homepage. Neither Reliance Communications nor Reliance Jio have responded to queries, but it isn’t Reliance Jio, and they intend to go to market with the brand Jio, rather than Reliance, one company source told us. Historically, Reliance Communications has been the first port-of-call for such deals: it was (Facebook owned) Whatsapp’s first deal in India (with unlimited usage of WhatsApp and Facebook across the country for Rs. 16/month), and Google had inked a two year partnership with the telco in 2012 to promote Android in India, offering a free 3G data plan offering 1GB of data transfer to all customers who bought a new Google endorsed Android device.

Update: BGR India points out that RCOM has sent invites for a joint press conference with Facebook in Mumbai tomorrow.

Also read: the most comprehensive coverage of Net Neutrality in India

Pros and Cons of Internet.org

Pro: Access

It increases access. Users get free access to Facebook, which acts like a gateway drug of sorts by initiating users into Internet consumption. Facebook and certain services are free, and via Facebook, users access the rest of the web. Telcos get paid for usage outside of these free sites, and get more users to sign up. From what we understand from our telco sources, Facebook has asked telcos in India pay for Internet usage, and doesn’t subsidise the cost itself.

Con: Neutrality

Facebook becomes the gateway to the web. Google is the gateway to the web (which it has earned), and Facebook is trying to be the gateway to the mobile web by doing operator deals. Today websites get a majority of their traffic online via Google, and Facebook wants to take on that role on Mobile. This means that discovery of your web/app based service or content takes place via Facebook. Like Google’s search algorithm, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm’s changes frequently, which adversely impacts discovery, and this means that service owners and content publishers have little control over their ability to reach their audience. Facebook, by being given for free and becoming a habit and the gateway to the web, owns the user. It has deprecated reach for community owners and publishers, which forces them to pay to promote to acquire users.

Three principles of Net Neutrality

Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.

Also Read: What Mark Zuckerberg didn’t say about Internet.org