Oct 10, 2015

Internet.org , Net Neutrality & Why Zuckerberg is Right ?

Seldom has people's ignorance surprised me so much than last month when this entire episode of Digital India & Internet.org played out in the mainstream & social media  .  Regardless of whether or not you are supporting digital India , its absolutely ridiculous to even think that changing your profile pic will "register you as a supporter" of internet.org  .  Facebook or any other corporation does not work on any form of democratic decision making in such initiatives ( and they should never )  .  So, whether you change your profile pic or not has got nothing to do with internet.org

It also made me think about a point that I emphasized in my last post on this subject .  People tend to be taken in when you put a liberal dose of words like 'liberal' , 'neutral' , 'equal' , 'democratic'  - so on and so forth. The central point in trying to understand this entire proposition is accepting the fact the internet connectivity that you and I enjoy has a cost. And it is congested at many points in many degrees. When a service has an underlying cost,the best way to utilize it rationally is in making people the right amount of money for the right kind of service.

Facebook is not just doing this out of altruistic intentions . They too have a selfish motive. And that motive is to create an underlying eco-system where people are connected based on their social interactions ( the social graph ) so that they can do good amount of targeted advertising or monetize any other kind of revenue generator that they may bring along.  But if they end up creating a platform that gives connectivity and access to millions of people who cannot afford to have that otherwise, it should be welcomed ..  The potential that internet connectivity (even if limited ) can bring to the lives of rural population is really great. Scores of small scale business owners are seeing 'market' differently after the advent of e-commerce. Whether that's in the field of agriculture / education / anything else,  having an accessible connectivity is a game changer. Internet.org is a platform designed keeping all this in consideration.. It does not support apps that are bandwidth heavy, it welcomes third party apps - Actually it promotes an android / ios type ecosystem for the unconnected world.

Few arguments that have been put against internet.org are

(1) If Facebook is so altruistic , why don't they just subsidize a data-connectivity charge for the  rural population   ?

Let's face it - Facebook is not just altruistic . It is a corporation which needs to come up with business models. If a business model goes hand-in-hand with social change, there's no reason to oppose that.  Also, these data-caps / bandwidth subsidies etc goes with an underlying assumption - it is that people are rational to use it appropriately. That is not often correct when it comes to the rural masses. One of the reasons cash subsidies in lieu of public distribution systems have not worked out well in developing world is that the cash is utilized for unintended things - alcohol / gambling / entertainment  - other than the primary intended areas - education / food / health . The same goes in this context. A large percentage of population is quite likely to use a subsidized & unrestricted bandwidth in movie downloads / videos / games .

(2) Would this stifle the chances of a small company incoming up with a next generation app ?
- If you glance the annual reports of any telecom company , you will realize the fact that data connectivity is the main driver of revenue growth . Telecom companies always have an incentive to market data plans that make more and more bandwidth heavy applications to the end consumer. Infact a subsidized platform like internet.org ( that offers bare basic internet with limited sites ) would be a good launchpad for telecom companies to upgrade customers to the next level of unrestricted internet. So, I would  say that fear is unfounded - except may be for monopoly markets.  And telecom in India is not at all a monopoly.

Any platform or connectivity has a cost - and someone needs to bear that cost - In this case, that cost is carried by telecom players, facebook and any other partner on this platform

Internet.org should make your connectivity charges much cheaper. Today as we are paying a flat fee for unrestricted content, we are effectively cross-subsidizing a bandwidth heavy gamer / movie downloader. If any of you have used Google Apps platform,  internet.org is an extended concept of that .  And I think in this case, Zuckerberg is more correct than Tim Berners Lee