Category Archives: web policing

Facebook’s Free Internet Access Program in Developing Countries Provokes Backlash

Author: Newley Purnell & Resty Woro Uniar
Source: The Center for Internet & Society

When Muhammad Maiyagy Gery heard about a new mobile app from Facebook Inc. that provides free Internet access in his native Indonesia, he was excited.

But after testing it, the 24-year-old student from a mining town on the eastern edge of Borneo soon deleted the app, called Internet.org, frustrated that he was unable to access Google. com and some local Indonesian sites.

Mr. Gery said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is an “inspiration in the tech world,” but added that the company’s free Internet effort is “inadequate.”

Mr. Gery’s reaction illustrates the unexpected criticism Facebook has encountered to its bold initiative to bring free Internet access to the world’s four billion people who don’t have it, and to increase connectivity among those with limited access. He is one of many users who say a Facebook-led partnership is providing truncated access to websites, thwarting the principles of what is known in the U.S. as net neutrality—the view that Internet providers shouldn’t be able to dictate consumer access to websites.

Since Mr. Zuckerberg’s announcement of the $1 billion project two years ago, Facebook has launched Internet.org in 19 countries across Asia, Latin America and Africa by teaming up with mobile carriers and technology giants including Samsung Electronics Co. , chip maker Qualcomm Inc. and telecom-equipment firm Ericsson AB. Facebook says that through the initiative, in which it is also experimenting with drones and satellites to deliver Web access, some nine million people have come online.

But criticism about the initiative has placed Facebook in an awkward position. The social network along with other tech companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Twitter Inc. are members of the U.S. industry group Internet Association, which advocates for net neutrality, among other issues. In markets like Indonesia and India, critics say Facebook is more interested in controlling which websites users can tap into than in ensuring free Internet access. “It’s not Internet.org. It’s walled garden.org,” said Sunil Abraham, head of the Bangalore, India-based Center for Internet and Society.