Digital India is the buzz word everywhere since Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States; not everyone understands what it meant but everyone was talking about it. The added impetus to this buzz word came from the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg who in support of Digital India, changed his display picture with the Indian tricolor and also invited everyone to join in.
The excitement and the knee jerk reaction of changing DP was soon a part of controversies surrounding the internet.org now known as Free Basics by Facebook. An initiative that aims at bringing together leaders, non-profits not for profit and local communities to connect the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access.
However, internet.org provides access to a select number of free websites. Basically, people across the world will be able to access only those websites that Facebook wants them to see. Owing to this issue several internet companies withdrew their support from the initiative.
The primary reason behind this step was that internet.org is not compatible with the principle of Net Neutrality, that is – easy and equal access to all websites.
While sharing his views on the topic Parth Gandhi, CTO, First Economy said, “It is an amazing initiative which is set to touch the lives of millions of people even if it does it in a fettered manner. All the corporations involved in executing this project will see a huge amount of Capex in giving out services for free and since all these organisations have capitalistic ambitions, there should not be any fuss about what they are wishing to give out for FREE. Since it a pilot project, few organisations have chosen to partner with it. As time shall pass, we could see more players entering the arena.”
Taking from the innovation and connectivity lab that internet.org has to offer, here’s another product Ediffy, which in an innovative way acts as an interface between rural students and teachers. Ediffy is a digital communication tool which is capable of serving the rural and urban population and is much in-line with Modi’s vision of infusing digitization in the domain of education.
“With Ediffy we are touching a subset of the audience with digital communication. Additionally, the larger goal of Ediffy is that of building a huge ecosystem of teachers and students in India. This would be a platform for sharing knowledge and information,” added Gandhi.
Internet.org provides free access to websites including travel, maternal health, jobs, news sports and local government information. Facebook has partnered with Indian telecom giant Reliance Communications and plans to provide free access to 50 websites. This will aid Reliance in acquiring a large number of subscribers who will in the long run start paying for gaining access to the rest of the world wide web once they get hooked to the free service.
Deepam, COO, First Economy shared his views on this by saying, “Internet.org is a virtuous initiative, however one cannot help but notice the business perspective behind it. In one breath it says it aims to provide free internet access to all and in the same breath adds its role as a gatekeeper. Internet as a platform in a democracy like India should act like a forum for free and fair participation from all.”
Considering the opposition which Facebook’s Internet.org is facing in India the townhall at Facebook would have been an apt platform to put the ambiguity and uncertainty looming around it to rest.
Jigar Zatakia, CEO, First Economy said, “I as a tech enthusiast was glued to the television to know how technology will create new avenues for people in India, what is the road map for digital India and expected outcome. We at First Economy strongly believe that internet as a medium should be used in a participatory way where the voice of the people is heard and with this in mind have launched WarCirlce.com where people can join or start a conversation to voice their opinion on any issue/topic they would like.”
According to a research report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and consultancy firm KPMG, with more than 300 million Internet users, India has the second-largest Internet user base in the world. But the Internet penetration at about 19% is low.
Statistics also show that Facebook already has about 135 million Internet users in India (1.44 billion global users as on 31 March), most accessing Facebook on their mobiles.
Being on Facebook can be overwhelming for many considering its power to connect you with everyone. It has pushed many users to jump on the bandwagon of sharing, liking and commenting on Facebook posts. While some agree that internet.org will give #DigitalIndia the added impetus there are others who are skeptical and cynical about it.
Nonetheless for tech startups like us this is an exciting time to be in. Given Facebook’s clout we are all in the wait and watch mode to know if we need to get back to basics or no.