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Facebook CEO Zuckerberg Under Scrutiny in India’s Net Neutrality Debate

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An open letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was posted to the social media site Wednesday by 30 groups, expressing concern over his efforts to influence the review of Free Basics by the Indian Regulatory Authority (TRAI) on net neutrality grounds. Zuckerberg published an editorial in the Times of India in late December urging Indians to express support for Free Basics to the TRAI.

The 30 groups consist of global, regional, and national non-profit and Internet advocacy groups, five of which are from India. It says in the letter that Zuckerberg’s argument contains claims presented as facts but without citing sources, and misrepresents Free Basics opponents with straw arguments.

It does not mention loaded questions or anecdotal evidence, though after describing an Indian farmer named Ganesh’s success using Free Basics, Zuckerberg asks: “What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women’s rights? How does Ganesh being able to better tend his crops hurt the internet?”

The authors of the open letter lauded changes made as the service was adopting the “Free Basics” name, but contend that rather than improving general Internet access, with Free Basics “services from Facebook and its Free Basics partners are free, while everything else remains paid. At most, the world’s poorest people get partial access to the internet. If you think access to the internet is a right like access to health care and clean drinking water, then Facebook should support affordable access to the entire internet for everyone, not access only to those services that Facebook or its partners deem acceptable.”

The groups also express concern that Zuckerberg may create the impression of a grass-roots anti-net neutrality movement, which could then be utilized by telecoms to push back against new regulations designed to protect Internet freedoms.

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