Indian Net Neutrality vs Facebook's astroturf army

[Read the post]

I understand this isn’t a newspaper with some sort of obligation for balance, but you’ve really gone out of your way to obfuscate this discussion. It’s tacky and unbecoming - and someone reading just this post would have a very confused picture of what the debate is and what’s going on. If they later read the actual story, they would, rightly, feel like they’d been purposefully misled. While I agree with your conclusion, you should make your case honestly and openly.

Facebook wants to give free mobile access to certain sites (and they are willing to expand this list to other sites that apply, but will not open it up in general). Viewed alone, this could be a positive resource that allows people with few resources to connect, communicate, and learn in ways they may not have been able to before. There’s positives here - it could help people. Everyone should be able to get to Wikipedia and other core resources.

That said, there’s other things they should get too, and I think it’s reasonable to oppose this. I think there’s a dangerous precedent here that could end up hurting long term freedoms, and I think are better ways to support broader digital access.


Thank you for being actually informative.

It seems like Facebook is aspiring to be network television…sort of.

Actually, everyone should have access to clean water, decent, healthy food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. Those are core resources, not internet access. How about we take care of those globally, first, then maybe we can worry about everyone being let into Facebook’s walled garden.

1 Like

Facebook isn’t giving anything. The bandwidth costs are bore by Reliance - the telco, and not facebook (amazing how many people got taken in by Facebook’s misleading advertising!). Where will Reliance recover this money from? Their paying users. India’s spectrum, Indian consumer’s money - being used to build Facebook’s walled garden.

All Facebook is doing is - running some proxy servers where they can track the hell out of these users, INCLUDING decrypting HTTPS traffic, and building a mobile app - both of which would be utterly unnecessary if Network Neutrality is preserved in the first place.


So Facebook is bribing Telcos… but not bearing any of the cost? Or something? What?

Facebook is paying Reliance some money in the name of marketing expenditure - nobody knows how much or at what terms. But they do get to claim that they aren’t paying the telcos. This would be a redundant transaction, were it not for compromising the privacy (which FB can get away with, Reliance being regulated, cannot) of FreeBasics users - 80% (by FB’s own data) of which are users who were already paying for the Internet (hence, not the new, poor that they claim to target with this scheme).

1 Like

Well… this is a tired fallacy, this idea that we can only do one thing at a time. But even if it weren’t, Internet access can be an important contributor to education.

And, again, I’m not saying this is a good thing. I think it’s probably right to be against it - I’m just in favor of laying out the case honestly.

Fair enough, but internet access is being put above basic human needs. The needs of facebook to expand is being put above the right of human beings to live safely and comfortable.

I am a big fan of doing multiple things at a time, actually. No doubt that some access is better than nothing. But at what terms?

Out of a million users, only 80000 are new users. Is that worth compromising fair competition, privacy, security of us? Remember, India is bringing 100m new users online every year, at an increasing rate (4% every month as of now). And this is even before free, neutral plans were launched. Some of these are:

  • Aircel launched free data for 3 months for all new subscribers
  • Airtel already gives cashback for off-peak usage
  • Google’s Project Loon not only expands the network, but offers the full Internet. Google also gave free wi-fi at 100s of railway stations - again without discrimination.
  • Gigato provides cashback sponsored by apps
  • Mozilla is launching free data plans subsidized by advertising

FreeBasics is the worst of our options.


I’m inclined to agree with you. As before, I think it’s right to be against this. All I wanted to say was that the original post here does not do a remotely fair job of laying out the situation and the choices involved.

A good, clear case with facts (like you’ve partially done with our post here) is going to be more persuasive (and is just a plain better thing to create) than one that misleads and obscures.

1 Like

Balance doesn’t mean that you present bad ideas as good ones. FB’s scheme here needs to be discussed for exactly what it is.

You can’t view this alone; it is not in anyone’s interest to set up Facebook as a permanent walled-off monopoly providing these services to people who have never been exposed to the actual Internet before. It’s not like other operators don’t have better ways of doing it (@Nilesh_Trivedi mentioned Aircel and Airtel for example).

The problem is,

This is simple anti-competitive behaviour. Neither FB nor Reliance (the actual operator in India) should have the right to take our spectrum (they only license it from the government - they don’t own it) and decide what we get to access on it. That spectrum is provided to them on the basis that they provide a service to the people, not that they get to maximise their profit at our expense.

Which is not actually what they get under this plan. They get to read Wiki but not edit it. They get to communicate through FB but not through other sites. Most of all, “core resources” could (and often does) include a million third-party sites that provide information, education, services,… Sometimes, especially local government sites may not even be under a NIC domain - they’ll just be registered by that department and put up on the web. Are those tiny departments that actually provide front-line service supposed to go begging to FB?

It’s fast coming to the point where such basic human needs can be provisioned through the Internet. During the Chennai floods this year, thousands upon thousands of people were reached for rescue through the Internet. FB, by simply existing, helped coordinate rescue efforts. On top of that, we’re using online Right to Information requests to arm-twist various governments into doing what they’re supposed to do. Often, these requests are filed by the actual people being affected - ie, the poor.

It’s a bit like saying “provide them with food clothing and shelter before thinking of building decent roads”; the road is sometimes necessary to do the other things…

The TRAI (that’s our FCC) has told FB to stop astroturfing.


For those who don’t speak Indian numbers, 18.27 lakh is 1.82 million, 8.9 lakh is 890000 and 5.44 lakh is 544000. Which means that roughly 78% of the responses were astroturf spam. Essentially, FB tried to DDOS the regulator.

We also don’t want internet access coming at the expense of the basic human needs, though.

1 Like

That’s not what’s happening. There is a very large block of India that is above the really basic survival stage, and needs help going to the next stage. We do need to target them differently from those in abject poverty.

We don’t need sleazy corporates trying to do it though…

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.