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Facebook and net neutrality collide in India

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

April 21, 2015

The net neutrality issue has been front and center in the United States for a while, and has stirred up people’s passion on all sides of the spectrum. For many, and this includes most of my esteemed colleagues at BestVPN, the argument in favor of net neutrality is clear, if not simple. If you’ve been a reader of mine for any length of time you will know that I think the matter is anything but simple, and it warrants deeper scrutiny. For while it purports to support a fair, level playing field for all companies, big and small, and to ensure fast, free access, and thus to preserve the Internet as we know it, something is amiss.

My argument against net neutrality legislation in the US should not be construed as being anti-net neutrality. Rather, it is a warning based on decades of observations of how governments work- especially the US, and starting with FDR – that with regulation comes obeisance to government in the form of future government levies.

Once regulated, in this case as a utility, it won’t be long before politicians tap it for revenue, if not control of content. Think Turkey, China, Russia. When I see well organized demonstrations in favor of net neutrality, replete with costly banners and placards, and expensive publicity campaigns, I wonder where the money is coming from. It’s obvious to me that governments have a curiously ambitious agenda and vested interest in regulation. They see dollar signs down the road – along with more power.

So with this as a backdrop we see demonstrations in developing countries in favor of net neutrality- or at least purportedly for that reason – and opposing the demons du jour, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Several Indian publishers decided to remove their services from his Internet.org app, claiming the app violates the basic tenets of net neutrality, even though it offers users in this impoverished , longing to be developed nation, services like news items, health information and, yes, Facebook, for free- without data charges.

Biting the hand that feeds them by eschewing a free service, albeit limited and select, the opponents would narrow- mindedly and selfishly deny the most disadvantaged people in society access to important information.

At least in the US, the market became more mature and participation broader before the tentacles of government sought to codify it, and thus potentially monetize it with the recent FCC ruling. It appears that in India, in the guise of righting a wrong by a major tech company, the government is fomenting opposition to be ahead of the game.

Zuckerberg, in seeking to diffuse a potentially explosive situation said in support of net neutrality, that,

“[Net neutrality] ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes- and it never will.

The conundrum, which is at the heart of the issue, is that nothing is really totally free. It is impossible to give the entire internet away for free. Zuckerberg goes on to say,

Mobile operators spend tens of billions of dollars to support all of Internet traffic. If it was all free they’d go out of business.

And with it would go the opportunity for millions of people to gain information, learn, and improve their lot.

Democracy is all about this, and, after all, India is the largest democracy on earth. What’s for the greatest good, the majority is what prevails. Yes, it will result in a flawed system where there will be some unequal access, and as usual the user is at the mercy of the big companies, and maybe only able to access a sliver of what is available at the moment in developed countries, but everything must have a starting point. An infant must crawl before it can walk. The alternative to opposing limited free access for India and other developing economies is no access at all.

But have no fear, the Indian government will insinuate itself into the picture to ensure that at the appropriate time in the future it can cash in on the bonanza.

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