This is what Mark Zuckerberg wants to do. I for one support the idea. There is however one stumbling block and it has more to do with perception than anything else.
While Mark might be feeling frustrated why so many in India don't get it and why so many people are hostile his noble idea:
- Yes, it's great to have free internet access but it's not really free internet access. It's a set of apps decided by select mobile operators. If Facebook really wanted to give free internet access, why doesn't it just give that? In India buy a pan India data license and give everyone access on the network for free?
- By working with mobile operators Facebook is ensuring every new Internet user becomes a Facebook user by default. No fault in this if you are going to get that pan India data license and give access to everyone but if you are going to use mobile operators to create a platform to handpick the sites or apps you want to give access to, then that's not net neutrality.
- Yes, India is a country with lots of problems. In the 1980s, India opened up it's telecom with STD/ISD booths. It changed people's lives. Was it free? No. Was it limited to certain numbers you can call? No. It was open access brought in my policy change. It was Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda's brain child. A lot of India's development issues have to do with policy and reforms are the only was to solve them. Nobody had to land from West and handout free phones.
- Right now Mark's and Facebook's Free Basic (formerly Internet.org) is seen has a hand out. And that sounds really messed up. Do you really think India lacks the resources or capability to offer low cost or free Internet to the masses? The government of India can do this overnight using, now decaying, state companies, BSNL and MTNL.
- During the late 90s and early 2000's several organisations milked this "CSR" of IT in education to get lucrative state contracts. For the politicians it looked great to be photographed along side a global IT company CEO since it would show the people that he pro-development. For the companies, the government in India remains the largest customer of services. The "CSR" is increasingly seen as tactic to win government business. So when Mark posts about someone in some village somewhere in India using the internet to access information about childcare, sorry, that ship has already sailed.
If Facebook and Mark wants to change this perception, here is what it needs to do:
- Get a pan India data license and give access for free - the license fee can be your contribution of #digitalIndia
- Don't do photo ops with politicians - do it only if they give you the data license
- Don't try to push this as CSR (#handout)- it's going to be great for your business be upfront about it.
Side note: Google is going to give 500 Railway stations Wifi. Everyone is going nuts. But wait... why? Great for headlines but is there a point to this? Indian Railways and the government can do this overnight. How complicated is it to setup wifi at railway stations? Do we really need Google to do this?