back to article Andreessen stokes the Facebook Free Basics ‘colonialism’ row

Venture capitalist and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen has stoked the growing row about banning a free data service that gets impoverished rural Indians online. On Monday, India’s telecomms regulator TRAI effectively outlawed the Facebook Free Basics service, which offers a basic data service to rural communities in over …

  1. Fraggle850

    Come on India

    While the two tech behemoths of silicon valley fight a dirty war over who will get to own all of your personal data there has to be an opening for a home grown solution?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They might have a better chance if they drop the Free part of Free Basics, I'm thinking along the lines of

    We own your connection, what you read, what you (will) buy, know everything about you and will even attempt to control how you feel basics.

    It's a bit more honest.

    (the control how you feel reference in case anyone forgot http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28051930)

    How exactly will free basics work with google because I'm assuming most people will be accessing this on cheap android phones? Are they going to create an app store as well?

  3. captain veg

    "free data service that gets impoverished rural Indians online"

    Only if you equate "online" with "on Facebook".

    -A.

  4. marees

    Re: "free data service that gets impoverished rural Indians online"

    And also if you want to equate *free* to paying a monthly fee for a regular data plan without subscribing to which you can't avail your bundled "free" plan

    free basics - neither cost is FREE nor is the content BASIC/worthwhile.

    It is a subsidy for people with existing net access rather than free gateway for new people with no access

  5. Andy Davies

    Re: "free data service that gets impoverished rural Indians online"

    An amazingly biased, and factually unjustifiable statement.

    and fwiw quite a number of India's rural poor have/ have access to a cellphone (probably not 'Smart') - that can provide weather, market/ crop prices - as sms (which costs ~ 50 paise).

  6. israel_hands
    WTF?

    Are these apples or oranges?

    “It’s akin to a debate among the well fed about whether the starving should be given soup that isn’t organically sourced.”

    Ah yes, who can forget the harrowing images of the Ethiopian Internet Famine. Glassy-eyed children sitting listlessly under the merciless sun, without even a humourous cat picture to nourish them while mothers clutched limp infants to their milk-parched breasts, unable to check if their bid for that 2nd-hand dremel has won or if they'll have to try that dodgy ad on Gumtree with only a single out-of-focus picture.

    If things are getting that bad in India we better get Bob Geldof on the blower and start air-dropping parcels of wifi dongles into the worst affected areas.

    Oh no, wait a second. It's just hit me; it's food that's vital for human life. Not wikipedia and youtube.

  7. Fraggle850

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    It's not about sustaining life in India, I get the impression that they largely have that covered. The point of giving access to information is to give people a chance to move out of poverty. Knowledge is power therefore giving people access to knowledge is empowering. Worstall made this point hereabouts on more than one occasion.

    Personally I'm fairly ambivalent about it: the anarchist in me says 'yay, fuck the zuck!' but the pragmatist says 'perhaps it'll help until there is decent competition'. Besides, when we all end up living in the walled gardens of Facebook we'll all be on free basics (only we'll be paying for it).

  8. Chris Miller

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    Internet access isn't a substitute for food, but it may help very poor people reach a point where they can buy food for themselves.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    If this happens there will never be any competition.

  10. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    Interesting observation given that famine is used as a political weapon in India. Vote for the wrong party and you and your neighbors get to starve. That's not unique to India.

  11. Fraggle850

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    I do share that concern but feel that people will choose a better offering if it becomes available at the right price point. I guess the important thing that could be regulated for would be ensuring there is no subtle lock in.

  12. solo
    Megaphone

    Re: help very poor people reach a point where they can buy food

    "Like a restaurant for your poor friend"

  13. John Lilburne Silver badge

    Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    If you are accessing facebook then you have something other than a basic mobile phone. How much in terms of the yearly income of a villager is a basic internet enabled phone? The data consumption is due to large amounts of unwanted adverts, and other irrelevant shite, being dumped onto the device. We all pay a large premium in terms of data charges to allow these corporation to bombard us with their crapola. As a charitable act facebook should be providing people with a FB sans adverts.

  14. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Re: Are these apples or oranges?

    Um, they are. That's the whole point of Basics, it is only a few dozen pages and some chat. That allowed them to find a network operator prepared to offer something for free.

    Ben Evans noted the irony of Facebook squandering the trust of users over many years, in pursuit of profit. And the one time it gets something right, and profit isn't the main motivation here, few people want to give it the benefit of the doubt. There's a lesson there.

  15. Mike VandeVelde
    Facepalm

    "A year ago, ‘zero rating’ wasn’t on anyone’s radar."

    It was on Canada's radar. We didn't want it either. Which colonialists pulled the wool over our eyes?

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/why-zero-rating-is-the-new-battleground-in-net-neutrality-debate-1.3015070

  16. ratfox Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Leap of net neutrality from "carriers shall not charge some content more" to "poor people shall not get free partial Internet" = astounding

    With all due respect to Andreessen, there's very little difference between "charging some content more" and "offering some content free". Whether people who get it are poor or rich.

    Now, whether the benefits outweigh the issues in this case is disputable. But the leap is not astounding, and it is in fact not a leap.

  17. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "G. now has a free tilt at the Indian market to harvest even its poorest citizens' personal data"

    This is a bad thing, but Facebook doing it is a good thing? It's like arguing the difference between The United East Indian Company and The East India Company. There is none.

    India will sort it out itself, and they are doing.

  18. Paul Shirley

    Can we assume Andrew now thinks Google giving away search, email, storage, Android and so many other freebies was a good thing? That he was wrong to complain about market distortion, people as the product and so much else? Or maybe agree the benefits outweigh the problems for many, many people?

    Or does he just believe Facebook are nice guys with nothing but good intentions we can trust as unregulated gatekeepers to the worlds poor?

    When choosing between shades of gray, FbGray is rarely the correct one.

  19. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    "Can we assume Andrew now thinks Google giving away search, email, storage, Android and so many other freebies was a good thing? That he was wrong to complain about market distortion, people as the product and so much else? Or maybe agree the benefits outweigh the problems for many, many people?"

    You are far too smart to advance arguments you know are dumb, Paul. Google is in a monopoly position, FreeBasics on Reliance isn't. 100 million Indians got full internet for the first time last year, via a variety of providers, 1m got FreeBasics (ie Ceefax) from one.

    "Or does he just believe Facebook are nice guys with nothing but good intentions we can trust as unregulated gatekeepers to the worlds poor?"

    You need to have a gate to be a gatekeeper.

    You're supporting the ban then?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    perhaps

    The regulator should have used their power to get a compromise out of Facebook.

    Permitting the scheme to go ahead provided it guaranteed certain content that was to users advantage eg public health information, their rights under the law, locations of government offices and contact details, councillors and other democratic representatives...

  21. Paul Shirley

    Re: perhaps

    Andrew is right about one thing, large chunks of the Indian state aren't working for the ordinary and poor people. They aren't necessarily a better gatekeeper than Facebook. That doesn't make Facebook any less creepy or untrustworthy.

    Pure (ish) net neutrality potentially offers a way around that lack of trust, creating a much reduced attack surface to abuse. That's why Facebook's scheme has to die in its current form.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fake debate

    Special interest groups use a tactic of creating a fake dispute where there is none.

    Like how American politics presents gay marriage as a 50/50 genuine debate, when it's this clear cut thing, of course people should have equal rights. Or clean coal (No it's fility), or teaching creationism in schools (No you ignorant twats).

    A similar dynamic is at play here. Most people agree that letting Facebook digitally colonise India is horribly shortsighted, and a barely veiled neo-liberal landgrab, yet here we have all this media noise creating a fake debate.

    Noise paid for by Facebook.

  23. Tom Graham

    Re: Fake debate

    Like how people of a certain political persuasion like to present everything as no real debate?

    There is simply your opinion, which is correct - based as it is on your own superior intellect, knowledge and moral values - and all contrary opinions which are wrong, and only exist at all because some people are to stupid, ignorant or evil to accept that you are right.

  24. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Fake debate

    "barely veiled neo-liberal landgrab"

    Oh dear. 40 pages of Ceefax, and your knickers are really in a twist.

  25. Graham Marsden

    Nice spin...

    "The venture capitalist and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen"

    That pretty much sums up what is going on here, Mr Andreessen, for all his fine words and logical fallacies is really only interested in the bottom line. He and Zuck have seen a lucrative market which is just ripe for the fplucking with lots of customers who they want to get hooked on their product with a "free sample" knowing that if they can get in first, they'll have an almost guaranteed monopoly which they can exploit and sell to their advertisers.

    This has *nothing* to do with benefitting the Indian people, nor is it that "Western activists" are "seeking to prohibit any free data services, which they consider fails their politically-correct definition of ‘net neutrality’", that's a total red herring, it is people who can see the risks of letting them control it and want to prevent that from happening.

    It also has nothing to do with colonialism or nannying or thinking the Indian people are too stupid to understand, it's about making sure that the politicians and regulators don't decide (based on generous "campaign contributions" or any other such things) that giving it all to FB would cripple any local attempts to do the same thing since FB could give it away for free for long enough to bankrupt any competition.

    Personally I don't think that's a good thing and Indian businesses should be allowed to develop their own products for the benefit of their own people.

  26. Graham Marsden
    Unhappy

    Re: Nice spin...

    EDIT ERROR IN THE ABOVE POST...

    "that giving it all to FB would cripple any local attempts to do the same thing since FB could give it away for free for long enough to bankrupt any competition."

    I managed to miss out a few words in the above after a cut-and-paste:

    "that giving it all to FB would be a great idea, even though that would cripple any local attempts to do the same thing since FB could give it away for free for long enough to bankrupt any competition.

  27. Sirius Lee

    Well done, AO

    I was dismayed to read of the TRAI position and even more dismayed to read comments on El Reg backing that position - because it was Facebook offering a 'walled garden'. It's striking that for some, *no* information for those who cannot afford to pay is better than *some* information that may have been filtered in some way - as if all the information we get is pure an unadulterated.

  28. werdsmith Silver badge

    Leap of net neutrality from "carriers shall not charge some content more" to "poor people shall not get free partial Internet" = astounding.

    Go on then Andreesen, come back with another offer and prove your philanthropist credentials, fund the free partial internet for India and leave Facebook permanently off the list of accessible services.

    No?

    Thought not.

  29. Andy 40

    “It’s akin to a debate among the well fed about whether the starving should be given soup that isn’t organically sourced.”

    No its not. It’s akin to a debate about whether the starving should be forced to get their soup from one company from the rest of eternity.

    Or perhaps a better analogy, its akin to tobacco companies giving away free cigarettes to those who haven't heard of lung cancer - by the time they understand the health risk they are hooked and it’s too late.

    To call protecting the poor from exploitative western corporations 'colonialism' is the most ludicrous argument I have ever heard. It's Facebook that is acting in a colonial manner here.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    anti-colonial

    Obviously, Andreessen ran into trouble when he implied that being anti-colonial was somehow bad for India, economy. And justifiably so.

    Estimated share of world GDP:

    India 1750: ~24%, soon after independence (1950): ~3%, now: ~7%

    UK 1750: ~3% 1950: ~6%, now: ~ 3%

    So clearly under colonial rule India grew significantly slower than the world average, whereas UK the colonizer grew faster. After colonial rule ended, India grew significantly faster than the world average, whereas the erstwhile colonizer grew slower. Very difficult to argue that colonialism was anything but disastrous for India.

  31. Tom 13

    Re: Paternalistic, undoubtedly, but colonialist?

    I find this distinction to be quite like that between marxism, socialism, and communism: of real interest only to academics who would argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. In both cases the root cause is such that for practical purposes there is no difference. Thus making the distinction is of use only to those who wish to distract from the immorality of the underlying assumptions.

    And yes, in India I'd expect that to the extent there is a differentiation, it will be lost because of it's history. But that's another outcome of the marxist/socialist/communist worldview.

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