The year 2015 saw Facebook getting caught up in a storm in a debate on net neutrality over its Internet.org initiative. Now the company is rolling out free Facebook services for Airtel users without any official announcement.
Update #1: Airtel’s communication representative got in touch with iamwire, to share that the company hasn’t signed up for Internet.org’s platform and this recent update appears to be a trial for Free Facebook that the social networking firm is experimenting with a few users. Airtel is not involved in this particular promotion. There is no partnership between Facebook and Airtel on basic rights.
As shown in the above screenshots of Facebook’s Android mobile app, taken by a phone connected to Airtel broadband WiFi, the two companies are in process of rolling out Internet.org’s Free Basics initiative for Airtel users in India. Facebook’s header (both app and mobile site) shows the promotion of its free usage for Airtel users. While the device was connected to Airtel broadband, it showed a warning message about ‘Leaving Free Facebook Zone’, and asked the user to buy a data pack. On disconnecting from Airtel WiFi and connecting to Vodafone mobile network, the app’s header continued to promote the favoured telco.
Update #2: A Facebook spokesperson got in touch with iamwire in order to share the motive behind the campaign, – “Hundreds of millions of people in India use the Internet every day and understand the benefits it can bring. This campaign gives people the opportunity to support digital equality in India. It lets people speak in support of the one billion people in India who remain unconnected, and lets them participate in the public debate that is being held by The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on differential pricing for data services. And it gives them the opportunity to support Free Basics, which is proven to bring more people online and accelerate full internet adoption.” says Facebook.
The Free Basics, which has been one of the key points in net neutrality issue, is a service that is offering a free access to a set of basic websites and services with objective to introduce people to the Internet. Facebook and Airtel had joined hands to introduce the same in 17 nations in Africa. Additionally, the social media company already has a similar partnership with Reliance Communications in India, where it provides free access to around 32 apps and websites in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa.
Neither Facebook nor Airtel has made an announcement around this yet. While this may be in a trial phase, this is likely to re-spark the net neutrality debate against the two companies once again.
On the similar note, Facebook however has launched a ‘Save Free Basics‘ Campaign in India, in an attempt to leverage the power of its users to present a case for Internet.org in front of TRAI. The campaign page comes with a pre-written message for TRAI in support of Free Basics. It doesn’t require for a user to sign in to send the message, hence there isn’t any regulation on the authenticity of the mail addresses that people can fill in.
Below are some excerpts of the social network’s message in this regard
Free Basics is a first step to connecting 1 billion Indians to the opportunities online – and achieving digital equality in India. But without your support, it could be banned in a matter of weeks.
But Free Basics is in danger in India. A small, vocal group of critics are lobbying to have Free Basics banned on the basis of net neutrality. Instead of giving people access to some basic internet services for free, they demand that people pay equally to access all internet services – even if that means 1 billion people can’t afford to access any services.
The TRAI is holding a public debate that will affect whether free basic internet services can be offered in India. Your voice is important for the 1 billion Indian people who are not yet connected and don’t have a voice on the internet.
The company is urging people to support it in making Free Basics available for all in the country, but considering the skepticism still surrounding behind the implications of such a service, only TRAI’s final verdict might be able to put things to rest.