Social media giant Facebook has opened its internet.org platform to all web and application developers to create more content around the ecosystem, which promotes free access to some websites to expand the reach of internet. The launch, carried out simultaneously across many countries, including India, has come amid criticism for the platform in India for going against the principals of net neutrality. Internet experts and activists had termed the platform non-transparent and discriminatory, as it allowed access to a select set of websites at zero cost.
“Our goal with internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities. To do this, we’re going to offer services through internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, said in a post on Monday.
He added the goal of internet.org was to allow more people to experience the benefits of being online. “For most people who aren’t online, the biggest barrier to connecting isn’t lack of infrastructure...the biggest challenges are affordability of the internet and awareness of how internet services are valuable to them. The internet.org platform aims to give people valuable free services that they can use to discover the entire wealth of online services and, ultimately, become paying users of the internet,” he said.
In India, a debate on net neutrality was triggered after mobile operator Airtel introduced an open marketing platform, Airtel Zero. Subsequently, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) brought out a consultation paper on the subject, which invited comment on whether telecom firms could be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of internet data such as email, internet browsing and use of apps such as Whatsapp, Viber and Skype. The controversy later engulfed internet.org, which had partnered Reliance Communications in February this year to provide free internet access to 33 websites. Following the controversy, companies such as Cleartrip and NDTV pulled out of internet.org, while Flipkart severed ties with Airtel Zero.
Currently, Trai is inviting counter-comments on the responses received. It is expected a government-constituted committee on the issue will submit a report by the middle of this month.
Zuckerberg said content developers would need some “guidelines” to be part of the platform. As “internet.org needs to be sustainable for operators”, websites must be optimised for browsing on both feature and smartphones and in limited bandwidth scenarios, he said. Websites that required high-bandwidth such as voice over internet protocol, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos, would not be included on the platform, Zuckerberg added.