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Zuckerberg affirms net neutrality but backs zero-rating plans

Mark Zuckerberg at IIT Delhi

New Delhi :  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today said his company is committed to net neutrality but supported zero-rating plans which have been criticised by many as violative of the principles of free Internet.

Speaking at his first Townhall in India, the young billionaire said the world’s largest social network is working both in terms of supporting regulations around that principle and building an open platform for developers.

When asked if Facebook supports net neutrality, Zuckerberg said: “Absolutely. Net neutrality is important principle. We do a lot to support both in terms of regulation and in our own work building an open platform that any developer can build something for regardless of who they are if they follow the basic rules.”

Facebook’s Internet.org, which aims to bring free Internet access to the developing world, has faced backlash with activists alleging that it violates network neutrality, the idea that all online traffic should be treated equally.

“Internet.org and Facebook are 100 per cent supportive of net neutrality, we lobby for it across the world, we build an open platform with no filtering but at the same time we also need to make sure that we continue to push for access,” Zuckerberg said.

On his second visit to India in a year, he was quizzed by some of India’s brightest young minds at a question and answer session at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, as he attempted to deepen Facebook’s links with a country that provides its largest group of users outside the US.

He said providing free Internet to everyone in the world is expensive and telecom operators spend billions each year bringing Internet to users.

“What we are really trying to do is to use Free Basics (previously known as Internet.org) so that any developer who can give low bandwidth services for free can be zero-rated. That has been powerful, and provides a neutral platform without any filters,” he said.

If, however, a telecom operator tries to press its own services on the users and it hurts people, then net neutrality is needed, Zuckerberg said, who is learnt to have met Bharti Enterprises CMD Sunil Mittal.

On zero-rating plans of telecom firms like Bharti Airtel, Zuckerberg said: “But to those who advocate against zero- rating I say look at a student who wants free access to the Internet for her studies.

“Who gets hurt by that? Around the world, all the regulations are honouring this principle. Prioritising zero-rating is necessary to connect everyone to the Internet. Facebook and Internet.org support net neutrality 100 per cent, but we also need to push for access.”

Zuckerberg said that many of those pushing for net neutrality already have access to Internet but “the people who are not yet on the Internet, can’t sign petitions online pushing for increased access”.

He added: “We all have a moral responsibility to look out for those who don’t have access and make sure the rules don’t get twisted to hurt those who don’t have a voice,” he added.

Internet.org is live in more than 24 countries and 15 million people have access to Internet now with Internet.org, he said, adding, “That’s a pretty good number… Almost 1 million people in India have access to Internet (through Internet.org)”.

Highlighting the importance of the Indian market for the world’s largest social media firm, Zuckerberg said the country plays a huge role in its “mission of connecting a billion people” to the Internet.

“India is the world’s largest democracy… When you have the mission to connect everyone in the world, you cannot do without connecting everyone in India,” he said.

India is the second largest user-base for Facebook after the US with 130 million users, he added. Facebook has over 1.3 billion users globally.

“India is the world’s largest democracy and we have 130 million users here. Its a mission for us to help provide access to Internet,” he said.

Zuckerberg said the company is investing in a number of initiatives, aimed at breaking barriers to connectivity and lack of awareness.

These include solar powered planes and a project to send a satellite for beaming signals.

The Townhall, which was conducted at the IIT Delhi campus, was packed with close to a thousand students, teachers and young entrepreneurs.

Zuckerberg, who on his arrival in India visited Taj Mahal at Agra yesterday, today went for a morning jog at the sprawling India gate lawns.

“I went for a run in Delhi around India Gate this morning with Chris Daniels, head of Internet.org, Ime Archibong, who runs Internet.org partnerships and a few members of our Facebook team,” he wrote in a post.

Zuckerberg’s trip to India comes after a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing where he delivered a 20-minute speech in Mandarin, a language he has been studying since 2010.

Asked about use of new technologies like artificial intelligence and Oculus on Facebook, the company continues to integrate the latest technology to ease usage and enhance engagement.

He cited the example of using artificial intelligence to describe a picture to a visually impaired user, so that they can also engage on the platform.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg had no good answer to the most voted question during the Townhall: “How can we stop getting invitations on Candy Crush?”

“This is why such Townhalls are so useful. This was the top voted questions on our thread. I told my developers can we have a solution to this problem by the time I do my Q and A? So we are doing it now,” he quipped.

Users across the globe have complained and even signed online petitions demanding that Candy Crush notifications be blocked.

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