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Facebook opens Internet.org to developers who ‘meet norms’

Facebook opens Internet.org to developers who ‘meet norms’
Finding itself on the wrong side of Net Neutrality debate, Facebook on Monday made its Internet.org platform open to all content and application developers who meet "certain guidelines".

However, Reliance Communications remains the only Indian telecom partner as of now on this platform, which has seen entities like Cleartrip and NDTV walking out. "The platform will be open to all developers who meet certain guidelines, including content that can be browsed on both feature and smartphones and on limited bandwidth," Internet.org Vice President Product Chris Daniels said. The move comes amid raging debate in the country on Net Neutrality, which stands for equal treatment to be accorded to all Internet traffic.

The principle states that no priority would be given to an entity or company based on payment to service providers like telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory. The debate in India has also been triggered by mobile operator Airtel introducing an open marketing platform 'Airtel Zero', and TRAI's consultation paper on whether telecom firms can be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of Internet data like email, Internet browsing and use of apps like Whatsapp, Viber and Sky. In India, Internet.org had partnered with Reliance Communications in February this year to provide free Internet access to 33 websites as part of its Internet.org initiative raised eyebrows, with free Internet supporters saying that it violates the idea of Net Neutrality.

This led to partners like Cleartrip to walk out of the initiative. India has the world's third largest Internet userbase after China and the US. Daniels said: "The principles of neutrality must co-exist with programmes like Internet.org that encourage bringing people online." He added that Internet.org was open for mobile operators as well as developers and there are no financial transactions involved. Internet.org states that it aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Samsung and Qualcomm. It claims that the platform has made free basic Internet services available to more than 800 million people in nine countries, including India. 

"These websites are simple and data efficient, so operators can offer these for free in an economically sustainable way. Because these services have to be specially built to these specifications, we started by offering just a few," Daniels said. He added that with the opening up of the platform, people will be able to search and use the services that meet these guidelines. When asked whether Facebook is talking to other telecom operators to join the platform, he said: "I will not say whether we are in discussions or not. We are open to all telecom operators and developers."  The goal with Internet.org is to help everyone connect and it provides free basic services starting with education, communication services like Wikipedia, job listings, HIV education and maternal health resources, he added. "Research has shown that for every billion people who gain access to the Internet, more than 100 million people are lifted out of poverty.

"There are over 4 billion people who need to be connected. And if we can connect them, then we will raise hundreds and millions of people out of poverty," the young billionaire said. Zuckerberg said Internet.org will work with "anyone who wants to join us". He asserted that no company paid to be included on Internet.org and neither does an operator get paid to offer these services for free.

India has the world's third largest Internet user-base after China and the US. Indian regulator TRAI's consultation paper has sought comments from public whether telecom firms can be allowed to charge different rates for different uses of Internet data like email, Internet browsing and use of apps like Whatsapp, Viber and Sky.

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