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Facebook’s Internet.org in India: playing king-maker for some businesses

by Riddhi Mukherjee and Nikhil Pahwa

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Facebook and Reliance Communications have partnered to offer free data access to a bunch of websites to Reliance customers through Internet.org. Initially these services, which will also include free access to Facebook, will be available to Reliance customers in Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Kerala telecom circles. The services are expected to be extended to the rest of the country in a phased manner, though no specific timeline has been revealed yet.

Yesterday we had reported that such a move might be in the offing after we received the following message while trying to access Internet.org over Wi-Fi in India:

You must be on the Reliance Network to use Internet.org. If you’d like to access these websites for free, use a SIM card from Reliance.

The list of services (with categories & name of corresponding websites and Our Take):

– Careers & Jobs: TimesJobs, Babajob
Our take: Why not Naukri.com, which is by far the most popular and most used jobs portal in the country?

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– Education & Knowledge: Wikipedia, wikiHow, Dictionary.com, Translator, Reuters Market Lite, Jagran Josh
Our take: Why not the HRD Ministry’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform SWAYAM? Or online course sites like Coursera or Udemy? Or even About.com.

– Health & Social Welfare: Facts for Life (UNICEF), BabyCenter & MAMA, Girl Effect (Nike Foundation), iLearn (UN Women), Malaria No More, Socialblood, and AP Speaks
Our take: Why not HelpingDoc, Qikwell, MDhil, Lybrate?

– News: BBC News, Times of India, India Today, NDTV, BBC News, IBNLive, Aaj Tak, Amarujala.com, Daily Bhaskar, Maalai Malar, Maharashtra Times, Jagran, Newshunt, and Manoramanews.com
Our take: Why not Hindustantimes, Hindustan, Livemint, KannadaPrabha, OneIndia, Webdunia, Indian Express, FirstPost, HuffingtonPost, CNBC TV18, Raftaar.com, Bhojpuria.com or many many others?

– Search: Bing (from Microsoft)
Our take: why not DuckDuckGo or Google Search?

– Social: Facebook, Facebook Messenger
Our take: Why not Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram or Whatsapp?

– Sports: ESPN Cricinfo
Our take: Why not Starsports.com, Cricbuzz.com*, or Network18’s Cricketnext?

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– Utility: OLX, Astro, Cleartrip, AccuWeather
Our take: Why not JustDial, Getit*, Ganeshaspeaks, Quickr, Sulekha.com, Yatra, GoIbibo, MakeMyTrip?

Here’s the problem with Internet.org

Apart from issues of making Facebook the gateway to the web and the primary source of access to content publications (which we had explained in more detail here), who selects which sites are offered free via Internet.org and why? By giving access to these sites, Facebook and RCOM essentially ensure that consumption for some portals become free, and some remain paid. The Indian consumer is cost-conscious, and they’re likely to lean towards what is cheaper. This puts RCOM and Facebook in a situation where they are king-makers in particular, and can effectively extract a payment for ensuring that some sites dominate others. There are competitive issues here, and the pipe (RCOM) here is not neutral when it comes to pricing of access. It violates net neutrality.

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

Disclaimer: Cricbuzz’ parent company Times Internet and Getit are advertisers with MediaNama

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