Image Source: ibtimes

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, said on Wednesday last week that he wants to reach out to the millions in India who don’t have access to the internet.

Speaking at a townhall-style event at IIT-Delhi, Zuckerberg said that Facebook has now opened up its Free Basics platform, also known as Internet.org. This means any app developer can now include their services on it. This gives people the option to choose which apps they want to use.

Zuckerburg’s argument is that millions of people who cannot afford to pay for internet access are better off with free access to a few sites than without having any access at all. This, however, has has come under lot of criticism in India as it gives free access, but only to a limited number of websites.

About 13 crore people in India use Facebook already, making the country the second largest market globally for the social media platform. Underscoring the importance of that market, Zuckerberg said, “Our mission is to connect everyone in the world. You can’t connect the world without connecting India.”

Right now, globally about 3 billion people have access to the internet, but 3 billion more are set to get online in the next five years, primarily from emerging markets like India and Africa. With Facebook generating over $3.8 billion in quarterly ad revenues, it’s hard not to see vested interests in Facebook’s seemingly philanthropic initiative.

The big question that supporters of net neutrality are asking is that if Zuckerberg’s real aim is to connect those on the other side of the digital divide with the universe of possibility that internet access gives, then why doesn’t he offer non-discriminatory assistance to the ongoing government plan of rolling out pan-India broadband?

It’s known that Facebook has been working towards making its services accessible to emerging markets where a majority of internet users are still on the 2G network. The company recently launched a new initiative called 2G Tuesdays. This prompts all of its employees to opt for one hour of a simulated slow connection once a week – to help them identify ways to make the experience better.

Using internet access and connectivity as a shield, Zuckerberg is trying to fend off any allegations that Internet.org is in violation of net neutrality. But an objective inquiry into the matter makes it quite clear that the current arrangement is highly skewed towards Facebook and its telecom partners.