Facebook’s Internet.org faces India backlash over net neutrality

Facebook’s Internet.org initiative aimed at improving online access in developing countries is experiencing some resistance in India.

A number of Indian media and technology firms have withdrawn their support for the service over disagreements concerning net neutrality.

Read more: Internet.org will win global connectivity battle without satellites, says Zuckerberg

News channel NDTV, media firm Newshunt and Cleartrip, a travel ecommerce group, have all pulled out of Internet.org, which only launched in India in February this year. The Financial Times is reporting that The Times of India group has also removed some of its services from the project.

The dispute is an off-shoot from the long-running net neutrality debate, which claims that Internet users should not be charged different rates depending on what content they are consuming. Essentially, net neutrality activists believe that all data packets should be treated equally.

However, Facebook’s Internet.org, which operates in India via a partnership with Reliance Communications, has been criticised for breaking net neutrality protocols. The service allows users to access certain applications and services free-of-charge, hence implying a kind of online hierarchy.

The net neutrality issue is not restricted to India, however, and has seen protests worldwide, with major online firms like Netflix, Twitter and Google all supporting the campaign. Despite the recent criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that his Internet.org service can operate in line with net neutrality regulations.

“I think net neutrality is important,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “For people who are not on the Internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all.”

Although the Internet.org service has encountered difficulties in the Asian Sub-continent, the service has been well-received in other parts of the world. Zambia became the first country to experience the project in July 2014, followed by Tanzania, Kenya and Colombia.

Read more: FCC prepares for net neutrality battle with new plans

While online access offers communities a number of benefits, it could also prove hugely profitable for Facebook if it manages to significantly increase its userbase.