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Mark Zuckerberg dials Nasscom, start-up leaders over Free Basics

Under attack from net neutrality activists, Facebook goes aggressive on lobbying for the project

Anita Babu  |  Bengaluru 

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg lobbied on Monday with National Association of Software and Services (Nasscom) and leading start-up founders, such as Snapdeal’s Kunal Bahl, and sought their support for its Free Basics programme in India.

Zuckerberg made a pitch that the Free Basics concept supported net neutrality and to ensure more people would get access to the Internet in his call with the Nasscom Internet Council, led by Sanjeev Bikchandani, its chairman and founder of job portal Naukri and Kunal Bahl, co-founder of Snapdeal.

Separately, Facebook has also reached out to Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm, the mobile wallet turned e-commerce firm, who had raised objections to the Facebook’s campaign.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the call, saying “it was part of reaching out to the developer community”. Facebook declined to share specific names from the developer community that it had held discussions with.

Facebook’s project has been criticised by Microsoft, Truecaller and a number of Indian start-up leaders and investors, who accuse that it violates the principles of net neutrality — following which internet service providers enable access to all content regardless of the source.

A Nasscom official said the software lobby group had clarified to Zuckerberg in the call that it was in favour of net neutrality.

He did not want to be named. Nasscom President R Chandrasekhar was not reachable for comment.

“We are strongly in favour of net neutrality. At the same time, we are not demeaning anybody. We want to be open to thinking about what types of different innovations that can happen because innovations are important,” said the Nasscom official.

Zuckerberg’s overtures to India’s technology community comes in the backdrop of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) asking Reliance Communications, Facebook’s Indian telecom partner, to stop offering Free Basics in India. The social network is prodding its 130 million Indian users to send an e-mail to the telecom regulator supporting Free Basics. Sharma of Paytm, who has accused the social network's game plan in India similar to that of “East India Company” and is engaged with an e-mail exchange with Facebook after he expressed outrage against its move in India, says the social networking giant want to create a wall in India after it was denied access in the world’s most populous country — China.

“I can say for fact that Facebook doesn’t like what China does. And now in India, they are creating a China kind of wall in India,” Sharma told in a phone interview.

Last week, Trai directed Reliance Communications, Facebook’s only telecom partner for Free Basics in India, to suspend services till it took a call.

On Sunday, PTI quoted Trai Chairman R S Sharma as saying the regulator would resolve the issue by bringing guidelines, after getting inputs from several stakeholders.

Nasscom is also engaged with campaigners of SavetheInternet, a lobby group of Internet entrepreneurs who have called out that the social network’s attempts is not a philanthropy initiative but an attempt to lock in unsuspecting users on its platform. Facebook has already 130 million users in India.

On Saturday, Chris Daniels, the head of Facebook’s initiative that oversees Free Basics, said the firm would reach out to Nasscom and the Internet and Mobile Association of India and explain to them the benefits of the initiative to expand internet in India.

First Published: Tue, December 29 2015. 00:39 IST