New Delhi: First splashy full page ads in major Indian newspapers and now a personal piece by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a leading English daily defending Free Basics, the war over "free" or "selective" internet services for the poor and net neutrality has entered a new phase.
"Free Basics should stay to help achieve digital equality for India. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality... 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 the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) over the last few weeks," Mr Zuckerberg wrote in a leading English daily, defending his ambitious initiative to provide a pre-selected suite of internet services to those who can't afford it.
Nikhil Pahwa, a volunteer with savetheinternet.in, wrote a counterpoint in the same daily against Mr Zuckerberg's appeal to save Free Basics.
"Why has Facebook chosen the current model for Free Basics, which gives users a selection of around a hundred sites (including a personal blog and a real estate company homepage, while rejecting the option of giving the poor free access to the open, plural and diverse web," he asked the Facebook founder.
Users who log on to their Facebook accounts are greeted with a message: "Act Now to Save Free Basics in India. Send a message to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and tell them you support Free Basics in India."
Some users are even receiving "notifications" from friends about "sending messages to TRAI about Free Basics."
According to Mr Pahwa, India is expected to have 500 million internet users by the end of 2017.
"What kind of an internet they get access to is important for our country. This is why the battle for Net Neutrality, with the last and current TRAI consultations included, is the battle for our Internet Freedom," he wrote.
TRAI has announced a Wednesday deadline for public's response on Free Basics while people can go to the online portal savetheinternet.in to register support for net neutrality.
Free Basics is an app that gives users selective access to services like communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information -- all without data charges.
On the other hand, "net neutrality" means that governments and internet service providers treat all data on the internet equally and, therefore, not differentially charge users, content, platforms, sites, applications or mode of communication.
Facebook rechristened its free internet platform internet.org, which it developed in conjunction with Reliance Communications Network as Free Basics in September.
Mr Zuckerberg reiterated India's importance as a market for Facebook and said nearly 250 million of the targeted next billion will come from India.