Net Neutrality Kills Free Internet

Giving stuff away to people who can’t afford to pay for it usually reaps praise. In the “net neutrality” world, though, it’s an outrage if you limit what you give away, as Facebook has discovered.

Facebook has come up with a plan called Free Basics or “to make affordable access to basic Internet services available to every person in the world,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated. Free Basics is designed to operate as a “zero rating” service, meaning that users can access any site they want on their cell devices, but as long as they stay within Free Basics, they aren’t charged data fees. Facebook receives revenue through arrangements with partners while getting Internet access to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it. Sounds like a win for everybody, right?

Zuckerberg has undermined Facebook’s position by declaring that “connectivity is a human right.” 

The problem, according to critics, is that this access comes with restrictions. Mobile websites need to work in the absence of JavaScript, video, large images, Flash, and Java applets. (Java and JavaScript are two different programming languages in spite of their similar names.) Some of these features aim at avoiding bloated pages that consume large amounts of bandwidth — Internet access is expensive in some areas. Others discourage technologies that aren’t universally supported on mobile devices.

These restrictions, critics argue, violate the “net neutrality” principle, which insists that anyone who delivers Internet access should treat all data equally. Some neutrality advocates consider Free Basics outrageous. Indeed, a couple of countries have prohibited its introduction.

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