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By ARUNAVA SINHA  


THERE'S A GOOD REASON that Facebook (FB) is spending serious money and management time to push through Free Basics (FB) in India. If its plan succeeds, Facebook could control a large portion of internet traffic in India.

Free Basics is a service that will let anyone in India with a Reliance Telecom mobile connection access certain websites on their phones free. Which websites? Facebook, of course. And others? Well, Facebook will decide.

Facebook says any website can join, but it will still retain control over whom it admits to this garden of free sites. So, this isn't free access to the entire internet, but only to those websites that Facebook approves.

Still, isn't some internet better than no internet, especially for the huge section of India's population that cannot afford to be online? Not always, and this is why.

First, when one organization controls which website users can access free of cost, it can keep people away from online services that would be really useful. For instance, despite the government pushing through its Digital India plan, none of its offerings might be available on Free Basics.

Worse, even if people are allowed to, for instance, access their bank accounts, it will be through Facebook's servers. So Facebook will get critical personal information about every Indian who uses Free Basics.

Finally, this violates the principle of Net Neutrality, which demands that those who connect you to the internet-your Internet Service Provider or your mobile operator-do not make it easier or harder to access certain websites. Free Basics will obviously do just that.

Of course, without Free Basics, users may not be able to afford access to these websites anyway. And that's why Free Basics needs to be replaced by a service that will enable anyone who cannot afford it to access the entire internet-any website-free.


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