In the recently concluded Mobile world congress held in Barcelona Spain, Vodafone, Airtel and Telenor made it clear that they were not happy with Facebook’s project internet.org for offering free internet in countries where internet penetration is not much. In India, Facebook has partnered with Rcom to offer free internet through the internet.org app. The app at launch offers free access to 38 sites and services with limited functionality in 7 Indian languages.
If a subscriber wishes to perform more advanced functions he is required to upgrade to a paid package, for example, while using Facebook for free you can update statuses or comment on posts but to open photos or videos you would need to subscribe to paid packs. Reliance sees this as a way to lure the price sensitive market who have not opened up to using mobile internet as yet, also it acts as a way to promote its paid packages amongst users who want an advanced user experience.
Companies like Vodafone see this as damaging to their revenues, since these companies have invested billions of dollars in procuring spectrum and setting up towers and if Facebook for its personal gains of increasing its subscriber base partners with telcos the larger companies stand to lose out on subscribers who will opt for the free internet offering by Rcom. Vittorio Colao, who is the Vodafone chief, said at the event, “That is not fair. It is almost like Zuckerberg does philanthropy, but with my money. Why do we have Facebook for free, and why not Google for free or TV for free, or education for free, or health for free? Who has said that Facebook is more important than learning English, for example? We have to be careful.”
Mr. Sunil Mittal Chairman of Bharti Airtel also expressed concern about the free internet project to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, which is odd considering the fact that Airtel has partnered with Facebook for internet.org project in Zambia in Africa in July 2014. Fredrik Baksaas, chief executive of Telenor expressed his fears as well, “This is the tension… That’s where disruptions come.” Zuckerberg defended his decision of providing free Internet, as he said this during the keynote speech at MWC, “Our mission is to help people connect. This will help people stay close to their loved ones and get access to services like health and education,”.
The entire concept of internet.org has the mobile user community divided into two halves, one half that welcomes the move as an opportunity to boost the internet penetration in India and make it a thing of the masses while the second half condemns it by raising questions about the violation of the concept of net neutrality by favouring certain websites and giving preferential treatment to certain kind of data over another.
To illustrate this consider that internet.org only gives free data usage for Facebook but not for Twitter or Google+ which will give the user more incentive to use Facebook over its competitors thus ruling out competition and not giving newer startup companies the chance to flourish on a level playing field. If things continue like this, the time is not far when VoIP services will get differentially charged as Airtel plans it.
Esmail is our very own in-house spectrum specialist. He is passionate about Telecom, DTH and OTT video streaming apps. When not writing an article, you can find him binge watching shows on Netflix while sipping on a cup of coffee.