Zuckerberg in India, defends Facebook’s Internet.org

Facebook wants to offer corporate social network products

Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting in India on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg sought to explain, and at times defend, Facebook’s plans to expand access to the Internet by offering a stripped-down free version.

During a roughly hourlong question-and-answer session at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, Mr. Zuckerberg said Internet.org — which offers a purposely stripped down version of the Internet to minimize data use — had one million members in India and had brought online 15 million people around the world who would otherwise not have Internet access.

Despite the promising, if difficult to verify, statistics, the program has not gone without complaints in India, the world’s largest democracy. Critics argue that by controlling which companies and individuals can offer services on Internet.org, Facebook is creating a walled-off kingdom in which it decides the beneficiaries of its initiative.

Mr. Zuckerberg emphasized that Internet.org was “an open platform that any developer can build something for, regardless of who they are, as long as they follow the basic rules of what Internet.org is.”

To build his case that Facebook is not violating the principles of net neutrality, Mr. Zuckerberg cited recent regulations in Europe and the United States that protected free online offerings like Facebook’s from regulation, even as new rules were passed to ensure that operators do not charge more for certain services.

It is possible to take net neutrality “too far,” he said, adding: “If there’s a fisherman in the village who now has access to Internet to sell some of his fish and provide for his family, no one gets hurt by that. That’s good.”

Speaking about petitions that have been passed around the Internet opposing Internet.org or supporting net neutrality, Mr. Zuckerberg said that it was possible for those with access to the Internet in India (at the moment, only about 130 million of India’s more than one billion people) to forget about the needs and demands of those without it.

“We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who don’t have the Internet,” he said. “The people who aren’t on the Internet can’t sign an online petition pushing for more access to the Internet.”

 © The New York Times 2015