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‘Poor Internet for Poor People’: Indians Resist Facebook’s Bid to Seize Control of Their Service

Posted on Jan 16, 2016

    Students in Hyderabad, India, wearing masks of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, perform a street play during a protest against the tech giant’s “Free Basics” program in late December. (Mahesh Kumar A. / AP)

Since spring 2015, activists in India have been waging a fierce campaign to stop Facebook from taking charge of the country’s Internet service through a program called “Free Basics.”

Cory Doctorow reports at The Guardian:

Formerly called “Internet Zero,” Free Basics’s pitch has been: we’ll get “the next billion internet users” (that is, poor people in developing nations) connected by cutting deals with local phone companies. Under these deals, there will be no charge for accessing the services we hand pick. We will define the internet experience for these technologically unsophisticated people, with our products at the centre and no competition. It’s philanthropy!

India’s net neutrality activists have a crisp name for this: “Poor Internet for Poor People”. They rallied thousands, then tens of thousands, and eventually millions under that banner. They marched in the streets, they took to the net, and they terrorized companies that partnered with Facebook, one-starring their apps until they pulled out.

They refused to accept Facebook’s claims of charity and development, pointing to Wikipedia’s experiment in sub-Saharan countries, which ended up providing light reading for the country’s elites during commutes, but not reaching significant numbers of the poor people they were aiming for. India’s net-fighters sent Facebook back to the drawing board.

Western activists didn’t know what to make of this. At one meeting – details withheld to protect the well-meaning – some of my colleagues pondered setting up an ad-driven alternative to Facebook’s Poor Internet, anything to compete.

I’m afraid I got a little shouty. Here we have India’s SOPA moment: an unexpected, unprecedented uprising that’s caught the popular imagination, terrified one of the largest companies in the world, made politicians and regulators take notice. Why aren’t we supporting them in what they’re asking for? Why aren’t we just saying, “The alternative to Facebook as internet gatekeeper is no one as internet gatekeeper?”

Continue reading here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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