Facebook's Zuckerberg Thinks Aggressively Violating Net Neutrality Is Fine…If You Just Mean Well
from the open-your-ears-and-listen dept
As we noted last week, India is in the midst of a heated conversation about net neutrality, as the government puts out feelers to determine how best to define an “open internet.” As part of this conversation, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative has come under particular scrutiny; the platform offering users in some countries walled gardens to a limited crop of zero rated apps and content. While Facebook consistently emphasizes the philanthropic nature of this effort, content companies have been dropping out of the project in droves, arguing that they don’t like the idea of Facebook (or an ISP) determining who does and doesn’t get cap-exempt treatment (and therefore a leg up in the market).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since posted an interesting blog post in which he pretends to address these criticisms, but actually winds up showing he’s not actually listening to what critics of the initiative are saying. As Facebook has done previously, Zuckerberg first highlights his philanthropic motivations for the Internet.org initiative with a short anecdote:
“First, I?ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet. In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world ? and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.”
And that’s great! If you’re in a philanthropic mood, give poor nations help connecting to The Internet. But as Susan Crawford and others have pointed out repeatedly, what these zero rated efforts by Facebook and Google offer is a selective, walled garden governed by the ad-delivery ambitions of a handful of large companies. That’s not the internet — it’s a fractured, tiny, Facebook-dominated version of AOL. And it’s one in which innovative startups can’t compete, because they can’t pay off the internet access tollman. So it’s a case where big players are able to pay up to effectively keep out the competition.
Zuckerberg proceeds to argue that zero rated systems are ok because some internet is better than none at all:
“We?re proud of this progress. But some people have criticized the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this.
We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don?t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It?s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it. But net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles ? universal connectivity and net neutrality ? can and must coexist.
To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free. If someone can?t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.”
Well, no. You don’t get to claim you support the open internet while at the same time building a system that is indisputably anything but.
And claiming people have to choose between no internet and Facebook’s vision of what its expanding international ad ambitions want the internet to look like is a false (and frankly insulting) choice. Again, if Facebook really wants to help — help by offering the actual internet — and all the freedom and opportunity that entails.
Zuckerberg then proceeds to take this bad logic further, by arguing that if you’re fighting against zero rated apps, then you’re the one hurting poor people:
“Arguments about net neutrality shouldn?t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. Eliminating programs that bring more people online won?t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”
While Zuckerberg claims to be fully supportive of net neutrality, someone should tell him that this bogus argument is the exact same one that anti-net neutrality folks from the big broadband companies have been making, and Zuckerberg’s statement plays right into their hands. They’ve been arguing (incorrectly) that pro-net neutrality forces are depriving the poor of internet access. And now they can quote supposedly “net neutrality supporter” Mark Zuckerberg making their argument for them. Over and over again, the big broadband players just keep arguing that they need to violate net neutrality to provide service to people in need, and Zuckerberg is advancing that argument for them, while claiming to be supportive of the other side.
Again, there’s nothing stopping Facebook from helping to finance real internet access in developing nations — even deals in which Facebook’s services and ads play a starring role (provided the internet access itself remains open). Instead, Facebook is pushing a walled garden where only Facebook exists (ridiculously under the name “internet.org” when it’s anything but). Remember, Facebook’s facing this backlash because India is trying to define what an open internet looks like, and consumers and content companies are making it pretty clear to Zuckerberg and the Indian government that an open internet doesn’t involve Facebook deciding which services and content consumers get to view. If Facebook cares as much about an open internet as Zuckerberg breathlessly claims, he’ll stop for a moment and actually listen. Internet.org can be a part of the solution, by helping to provide actual internet access, not limited walled gardens where only wealthy companies’ services are available.