Friday, May 15, 2015
Facebook's Internet.org initiative claims to have the objective of bringing basic Internet to everyone in the world. Through this initiative, a few select websites chosen by Facebook and its partners can be accessed via mobile internet for 'free'. The initiative has just been implemented in Malawi in partnership with two of Malawi's mobile phone operators - TNM and Airtel Malawi. At face value, it looks like a great initiative. However, personally, I have reservations on the initiative based on the following reasons.
First, the initiative violates the principle of Internet or net neutrality. For starters, Internet neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication (Wikipedia). The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. Clearly, by selecting a few websites over others, Facebook and its partners are not treating all web content equally and therefore giving undue advantage to certain websites and services over others thus stifling innovation and competition. The Internet is what it is today because of innovation and competition. And if anything, this idea of filtering out some preferential websites and services over others is taking away the fundamental human right on the right to choose. Why should Facebook and its partners choose for 'poor' people what they can freely access?
Second, this initiative should not hoodwink the masses in developing countries like Malawi that it is a free service. In my opinion, this initiative gives Facebook and its partners undue advantage over others by cleverly putting themselves in a preferential basket. In other words, as more people access the Internet through this initiative, it increases Facebook's and its partners' advertising constituency. Facebook and its partners should have been honest on this other than operating on a gimmick of a charity banner.
Third, the very idea propelled that 'Internet.org by Facebook' is misleading. Internet is not Facebook and neither Facebook is Internet. The Internet should be free from any corporate control.
Fourth, what people need are affordable internet services for everyone in the world. And in this case, we are talking of affordable access to the whole of the Internet and not necessarily 'free' access to some select few websites chosen by Facebook and friends. In Malawi, Internet costs are unjustifiably very high but certainly what many want is affordable access to the whole of the Internet other than 'free' access to a select few websites whose content is not even local.
I rest my case.