When Mark Zuckerberg gave his idea of free basics in India the whole Internet community completely divided into the supporters supporting free basics and the critics who are pitching for the net neutrality.
Quite some time has passed since this debate has started but still many of the Internet users are not aware about the details of either of the ideas that is the free basics and the net neutrality. Going forward we need to first understand what is the basic concept behind each of these ideas.
Free basics is Facebook’s non profit initiative that aims to bring Internet connectivity to the underprivileged people like people in rural India who are generally not connected to the world through the Internet. Free basics advocates giving these underprivileged people access to some of the most popular sites for free without any charges by the telecom companies for the data costs. It advocates that with the access to the free sites people will learn the usage of internet and about its benefits. This will in turn increase the connectivity between people. So in order to access the sites that have not been included in the free basics they will pay for the data costs.
Net neutrality or more appropriately network neutrality is a term that was first coined by lawyer and scholar Tim Wu in 2003 in an academic paper also titled ‘Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination’. The idea behind the Net Neutrality is fairly simple as it advocates that all the sites should be given a fair chance of growth and rejects the idea of monopolies. Net neutrality fights for the rights of the smaller sites or the upcoming sites which try to go up against the giants like Google or Facebook. In order to ensure the growth of these smaller sites and to give them a fair chance at competition a neutral platform is necessary and that is what internet in its current state is providing with.
So why has these two ideas has crossed swords with each other??
The answer lies in the access right that is being given to the user in free basics for some of the sites which can be accessed for free while data fees is to be paid to access the sites that are not hosted by the free basics, this in itself is an idea against the net neutrality as it gives the already strengthened internet companies to increase their user bases exponentially. As the world is heading towards Big Data and Internet of Things, the statistical data of the untapped markets becomes very important for the major companies as they look towards expanding their domain and range. With free basics, although the services are provided to the users for free but this arrangement itself is a veil to cover the backchannel economics taking place in the Internet world where the personal data of the users are being traded in exchange for money. In this way the sites included in the free basics are bound to have access to major growth opportunities while leaving other sites in dust grasping desperately to the meager data generated by the currently subscribed Internet users in the developing world.
As the Free Basics advocates providing free internet connectivity to the underprivileged class of the developing world, the idea in itself is very noble and has the potential to change the demography of the developing world. With the easier access to the Internet, the underprivileged people can have the growth opportunities that had not been with them for a long time. So in order to protect this idea from drowning completely in this debate it is needed for the government to take an active role in its implementation but only the government sites should be allowed to access as these sites have no economic objectives and are specifically on the internet for the benefit of the common people giving away information free of cost. It will also provide the government with the opportunity to take a look at the interests of the common people and come up with effective solutions to the their specific problems. This will also help the government in its objective to digitize whole India which is being undertaken under the banner of ‘Digital India’. So in the end if implemented in this way it will be a win win solution to both the parties that is the government and the common people if implemented in this form rather than being implemented in the current form which is purely a business model.
Lastly, it is a request to those users of facebook or any other site who support the campaigns that the sites have floated. They should atleast know about the basics behind the campaign and understand its implication on the daily lives of the people.