Facebook-backed Internet.org loses some Indian partners over net neutrality

Internet.org was criticized for offering access to select sites without data charges

A project by Facebook-backed Internet.org to offer people access to select online services without data charges has run into trouble in India, after the program was criticized by net neutrality activists.

Internet.org, a project launched in 2013 by Facebook and other tech companies to provide Internet access to the underprivileged, teamed with operator Reliance Communications in February to offer through a mobile app free access to Reliance subscribers to 38 websites and services, including that of Facebook.

The Internet.org program and other such deals have, however, been criticized on social media for violating the principles of net neutrality by creating "walled gardens" that provide free access only to a few preferred content providers and services. The Internet.org program does not meet its stated objective of providing free and unfettered Internet access to all, according to the activists.

A number of companies that had partnered with Internet.org to offer content or services had by Wednesday either quit the alliance or were readying to leave.

Travel site Cleartrip, for example, said it was withdrawing from Internet.org, as the recent debate in India over net neutrality had led it "to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast."

The company said it wasn't making any money out of being on Internet.org, nor was it paying or being paid to be part of the program. "Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to a social cause," it said in a blog post.

The Times Group, a large media conglomerate, said it was withdrawing some of its Internet sites and services from Internet.org. But in the case of its main newspaper, The Times of India, it would withdraw if its direct competitors also pull out. NDTV, one of the competitors named, announced late Wednesday it is withdrawing from Internet.org.

Earlier in the week, Flipkart, one of India's large online retailers, said it was walking out of talks with another Indian operator, Bharti Airtel, which launched this month a marketing platform, Airtel Zero, that allows customers to access mobile apps without data charges. The charges and other fees are to be paid by the app providers, raising concerns that the deal could handicap small companies and startups.

Flipkart's CEO Sachin Bansal had earlier tweeted that the so-called zero-rating deals helped reduce data costs for users. But he retreated after strong online protests against the company. The activists then began scrutinizing other deals that offered free data access to websites and apps, including the Internet.org app.

Internet.org did not comment on the move by Cleartrip and other partners, but referred to a Q&A by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In that online interview on Tuesday, Zuckerberg said that net neutrality is important to make sure that network operators don't discriminate and limit access to services, particularly in countries where most people are online. But for people who are not on the Internet, having some connectivity and ability to share is much better than none, he said.

"That's why programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations," he added.

Net neutrality has become a big issue in India after India's Telecom Regulatory Authority of India asked in March for comments on the regulatory framework for Internet applications and services that ride on mobile operators' networks, including on whether providers of apps and services should pay for the use of the telecom network over and above what users pay for data.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesCleartripInternet.orginternetFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?