Mark Zuckerberg Pens Op-Ed Defending Internet.org Free Basics in India

By David Cohen Comment

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Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the controversy over Internet.org’s Free Basics offerings in India with an op-ed piece in The Times of India.

The entire post is available here, and highlights follow:

To connect 1 billion people, India must choose facts over fiction.

In the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights.

That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic Internet services.

We know that when people have access to the Internet, they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare and communication. We know that for every 10 people connected to the Internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty. We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the Internet.

That’s not theory. That’s fact.

Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the Internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the Internet. But even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives.

Over the past year, Facebook has worked with mobile operators, application developers and civil society to overcome these barriers in India and more than 30 other countries. We launched Free Basics, a set of basic Internet services for things like education, healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying for data.

Who could possibly be against this?

Surprisingly, over the past year, there’s been a big debate about this in India.

Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic Internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims–even if that means leaving behind 1 billion people.

Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole Internet, they continue to claim–falsely–that this will make the Internet more like a walled garden.

Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim–falsely – that this will give people less choice.

Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim–falsely – the exact opposite.

What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women’s rights?

We’ve heard legitimate concerns in the past, and we’ve quickly addressed those. We’re open to other approaches and encourage innovation. But today this program is creating huge benefits for people and the entire Internet ecosystem. There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) over the past few weeks.

Choose facts over false claims. Everyone deserves access to the Internet. Free basic Internet services can help achieve this. Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India.

Readers: How do you think the situation in India will play out?

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