Facebook’s plan to monopolize the internet of developing countries suffered a blow this weekend as Vodafone India, the country’s second-biggest mobile operator, announced it would hold off offering free internet or ‘zero rated’ services amid a fierce political debate about the practice.
Free internet services are offered to customers when an online service provider, such as Facebook, Spotify or, in India Flipkart, does a deal with the telco provider to pay for the services wholesale and then pass them along to customers for free.
Opposition to the practice say it favors big players, forcing smaller organisations or start-ups out of the market. There is also the more dangerous issue of companies like Facebook violating net neutrality principles and favoring their own content.
Facebook’s Internet.org scheme does not allow arch-rival Google to give access to its Youtube property and all sites wanting access must be hand filtered by Facebook.
Several European countries have outlawed zero rated service, namely The Netherlands and Slovenia, because of the dramatic effect it has on consumption patterns.
Lawmakers have gone so far as to say it removes real choice from users.
The uproar over Internet.org service from Bharti Airtel and Flipkart in India was so great that the plan has been abandoned.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lies and says this is just a philanthropic effort to get more underprivileged communities online the privacy invading social network pays RCom, an Indian telecom provider, so users receive AccuWeather, Dictionary.com and, of course, Facebook for free.
India’s telecom regulator Trai and the Department of Telecom (DoT) have set up an inquest to examine the ramifications of zero rating and the country may outlaw the practice.