‘Backward’ India already benefiting from net neutrality

Facebook offering inexpensive internet access after its strings-attached service was rejected.

facebook, politicization of internet access, clickbait headlines, tech fails, net neutrality

India’s Net Neutrality:

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Isn’t it amazing, the positive results that can be had when anti-competitive behaviour is disallowed?

Facebook has launched Express Wi-Fi, an inexpensive internet access service, in India through around 700 hotspots, with plans to add a further 20,000 through a partnership with wireless carrier Bharti Airtel.

Residents in the four states of Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Meghalaya will be able to purchase as little as 100 megabtyes of daily data usage for 10 rupees (21 cents Canadian), all the way up to 20 gigabytes for 300 rupees.

The goal of the project is to get more people online. Most importantly, it comes with no strings attached – or at least none that are apparent at this point. Users will be able to access the internet as they see fit, with no Facebook-imposed restrictions.

That differs from the social network’s initial plans for the country, which involved giving citizens free access in exchange for choosing which sites and applications they could use. Facebook would, of course, be at the top of that list.

India’s telecommunications regulator shot down the “Free Basics” effort last year after wide-scale protests about its potential harmfulness to consumers and overall competition.

As with the CRTC’s similar recent net neutrality ruling in Canada, India’s regulators decided it was more important to prevent certain companies from picking winners and losers online than giving consumers access to an offer that appeared appealing on its surface.

From the consumer’s perspective, free service is obviously more appealing than paid service. But, as anyone with half a brain understands, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, which is why regulators in both countries made the right calls.

And so, Facebook has turned to Plan B in India, which is inexpensive service rather than free service. On the face of it, everyone should win – consumers, internet entrepreneurs and companies, and Facebook itself. We’ll see how it shakes out.

U.S. telecom industry adviser Roslyn Layton recently criticized Canada for its pro-net neutrality stance, suggesting the country is now in a “class with backward India.” Given that everyone in India looks to win from its regulator’s actions last year, it’s pretty clear she – and the current U.S. administration – are the ones who have it backward.

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