Social networking giant Facebook is looking for a New Delhi based candidate to head its net neutrality violating project Internet.org in India and South Asia, as indicated by this LinkedIn job post. The person, as Head of Internet.org and Access Policy for India & South Asia, will be expected to “work closely with policy makers, regulators, industry associations, businesses, civil society and academics across the region”. The person will also be responsible for “regulatory issues impacting Mobile internet for the Facebook family of applications and services.”
This comes at a time when Facebook is trying very hard to build support for the Net Neutrality violating Internet.org/FreeBasics service, which allows Facebook and its partners preferential pricing from telecom operator partners such as Reliance Communications: consumers don’t have to pay for accessing Internet.org websites, but will have to pay to access the open web. Facebook reserves the right to reject services applying for Internet.org, and does not include services which compete with carrier services. More on that here.
Over the past month, Facebook has spent a considerable amount of money advertising Internet.org on TV, in print and in cinema halls, apart from townhall meetings in the US and in India, within a month of each other. The company is seeking someone with a profile of 10-15 years of experience in public policy in the tech market, political systems and institutions and a ‘passion for Facebook and its mission to make the world more open and connected’.
Internet.org: An Indian timeline
– In February, Facebook started rolling out Internet.org in India in partnership with Reliance Communications. The company defines Internet.org as a global initiative to make available affordable internet access to 2/3rds of the world’s population which does not have internet. (Related reads: What Mark Zuckerberg didn’t say about Internet.org and Facebook’s Internet.org in India: playing king-maker for some businesses)
– In March, Bharti Airtel chief Sunil Mittal said that Internet.org would only serve Facebook, calling it a non-philanthropic project. If Mark Zuckerberg continued calling it a philanthropic project, Mittal said that if data was free, governments should make spectrum free and there should be free network at well. While Internet.org is looking to bring the next billion people onto the Internet, telecom operators say that Internet services do not invest in the costly infrastructure required so that people can access applications on their smartphones. In India, operators are also lobbying hard for Internet services to be regulated and are also looking for a revenue sharing model. More on that here.
– In April, Cleartrip, Times Internet, NDTV and NewsHunt, who had signed on as partners with Internet.org, pulled out of the service, appealing to other internet companies to follow the same. In the same month, Flipkart also pulled out of a similar zero-rating platform offered by Airtel and said that it was committed to upholding net neutrality and would actively look to promote the same. (Related read: Facebook’s Internet.org platform is a privacy nightmare: tracks users on partner sites, allows telcos to track)
– In May, Facebook launched a campaign in favour of Internet.org platform, placing ads in the middle of people’s timelines on their mobile phone applications. When clicked, it redirected them to a Change.org petition asking people to support their initiative. At the same time, Zuckerberg opened up the platform to all developers where any company could sign up to be zero rated, and customers would not have to pay for accessing these sites.
– In the same month, we reported that Internet.org claimed to have 800,000 users in India, but only 20% of those were new Internet users. (Also read: Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet) In August, Facebook said that more than 17 million people had expressed support for its Internet.org services via SMS and the Internet.org Facebook page.
– Last month, we highlighted that Facebook’s name change of Internet.org to Free Basics did not support net neutrality and continued to propagate the use of zero rated platforms.