Monday, January 4, 2016

Off Topic | Mark Zuckerberg on Free Basics - They Lie, I Lie

Below is my take on how the article in Times of India today by the Facebook founder should read, in its uncut and unabridged version.
"In every society, there are certain basic services that are so important for people’s wellbeing that we expect everyone to be able to access them freely.
We have collections of free basic books. They’re called libraries. They don’t contain every book, but they still provide a world of good.
We have free basic healthcare. Public hospitals don’t offer every treatment, but they still save lives. We have free basic education. Every child deserves to go to school.
And in the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic internet services. That is where we come in.
All these are very important public services, and should be and are usually provided by the Government. Well mostly so, at least in developed world. In India, this represents a fortune for companies like us.
What we are offering is like a free library, where you only get to read what we want you to. Or like a free basic healthcare where you get free treatment only if you listen to the missionaries from the Church of Our Lady of Click baits and Cats. Or like a free school where we decide the syllabus. Imagine if all these were done by a government without proper democratic representation. Well, we are not government and of course you do not have any representation in our corporate decisions whatsoever. But if you call this undemocratic you are just against development. Admit it.
We know that when people have access to the internet they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare, communication. We know that for every 10 people connected to the internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty. We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the internet.
That’s not theory. That’s fact. Although I am not sure who said it? May be my cat? Anyways who needs to cite sources. To people reading this column I will just cite my awesomeness instead.
Another fact – when people have access to free basic internet services, these quickly overcome the digital divide. Yes, I am the master of the obvious.
Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. But even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives.
Over the last year Facebook has worked with mobile operators, app developers and civil society to overcome these barriers in India and more than 30 other countries. We launched Free Basics, a set of basic internet services for things like education, healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying for data. At least not in cash, and not yet! Future is awesome!
Most developed countries strongly uphold net neutrality, so we tried our luck with the developing ones. Somehow we managed to get more than 35 operators to launch Free Basics and 15 million people to come online across developing world. And half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days.
So the data is clear. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality. Data from more than five years of other programs that offer free access to Facebook, WhatsApp and other services shows the same. By the way, if we accept 30m (0.5% of total internet users) as a benchmark in saying "data is clear", I can also prove that God is Invisible Pink Unicorn, and holocaust is a hoax. Also notice the term "pay" above, in fact you have to "pay" something to someone before you get "Free" basic and wait out that 30 days to bliss.
If we accept that everyone deserves access to the internet, then we must surely support free basic internet services. Just the way we designed it. That’s why more than 30 countries have recognized Free Basics as a program consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers. And this is especially good for Facebook too. User experience research after Internet.Org launch found majority of users (60% +) from places like Nigeria and Indonesia now considered "Facebook is Internet" as opposed to only 5% in the US.
Who could possibly be against this? May be I should offer them some Facebook stocks.
Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India. I thought they will just grovel at my feet!
Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people. I want that billion people behind Facebook.
Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim – falsely – that this will make the internet more like a walled garden. It is for everyone, except that you need permission. My permission. Who am I? I am the creator of the social platform that invented click-baits.
Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim – falsely – that this will give people less choice. Any telcos and developers, as long as they listen to what Facebook says.
Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, they claim – falsely – the exact opposite. They lie, I lie!
A few months ago I learned about a farmer in Maharashtra called Ganesh.
Last year Ganesh started using Free Basics. He found weather information to prepare for monsoon season. He looked up commodity prices to get better deals. Now Ganesh is investing in new crops and livestock.
May be I should plan targeted ads disguised as information for farmers like Ganesh. But not  now, yet.
Critics of free basic internet services should remember that everything we’re doing is about serving people like Ganesh. And also, in this world, nothing is free. This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. Ok I am serious. Really. Although I find it hard to explain why we are doing this charity this way, and why we are insisting that to be on the platform one has to sign-up and take permission from me. Yes I agree, cost-wise it makes no sense, with all these tracking and admin causing us extra money. But still we need this control. You never know what the future holds for you.
If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today. And we lose exclusive access to those people and the opportunities that brings.

Right now the TRAI is inviting the public to help decide whether free basic internet services should be offered in India.
For those who care about India’s future, it’s worth answering some questions to determine what is best for the unconnected in India. As a mark of our neutrality, we are using our massive platform to campaign for it.
What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women’s rights? See how the cable networks operate everywhere. It makes lots of commercial sense.
How does Ganesh being able to better tend his crops hurt the internet? I excel at asking totally unrelated questions to prove my point.
We’ve heard legitimate concerns in the past, and we’ve quickly addressed those. We’re open to other approaches and encourage innovation. But today this program is creating huge benefits for people and the entire internet ecosystem. There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell TRAI over the last few weeks. We just encouraged our users without their permission to send mails to TRAI, disguised as net neutrality campaign.
Choose facts over false claims. Everyone deserves access to the internet. Free basic internet services can help achieve this. Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India.
And remember, there is no free lunch."

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