Indian tech companies are pulling out of Facebook’s insanely ambitious plan to connect the developing world to the Internet, saying that it violates concerns with Net Neutrality, reports the Huffington Post India.
Cleartrip, NDTV, Newshunt and the Times Group all withdrew their support Wednesday.
The issue is simple. Facebook’s Internet.org wants to get everybody online, saying it has the potential to raise hundreds of millions out of poverty by offering them health information, education, and job opportunities.
India has had Internet.org available since mid-February of 2015, thanks to a partnership between Facebook and local carrier Reliance Communications.
But it’s limited. Very limited. In exchange for free Internet access, users in India who connect via the official Internet.org app only have access to 38 websites, including Facebook, Wikipedia, job sites, and other utilities that were designed to improve quality of life in the region.
It’s worth noting that none of the participating sites either paid or were paid to participate in Internet.org; this was a volunteer effort.
During his Facebook Q&A Tuesday night, Mark Zuckerberg actually answered a question from TechCrunch’s Josh Constine on how to reconcile Facebook’s support of network neutrality (which says that carriers shouldn’t limit the content users have access to) with Internet.org’s limitations:
In other words, Zuckerberg says, it’s better to double down on the most basic services and get those right for the disconnected world.
But these startups, aren’t buying it, saying that in light of responses from their users, an open Internet trumps a free one, even with these lofty ambitions.
“So while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org,” writes travel startup Cleartrip CEO Subramanya Sharma in a blog entry explaining the decision to pull out.
Internet.org is available in seven other countries in the developing world. Facebook has repeatedly named it as a major focus for the company — even going so far as to make a TV commercial.
It will be interesting to see what this backlash means for the initiative going forward, given how sceptical Facebook’s investors are on how and why the initiative matters — especially since Facebook has been spending lots of cash on massive aerial drones that can send internet connections back to earth via laser beam.