Digital divide

Facebook opens up Internet.org to developers, responding to net neutrality advocates

Chris Daniels, Facebook's VP for Internet.org, says Facebook isn't picking the web winners through the initiative.

Facebook announced on Monday that its Internet.org app, which offers some websites for free, without data charges, is being opened up to developers. “Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities,"  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. "To do this, we’re going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive.”

The lack of transparency and inclusiveness was among the criticisms that net neutrality activists have made about Internet.org, which is available in India through Reliance Communications on Android phones. In an interview at Facebook’s New Delhi office, Chris Daniels, Facebook’s vice president of product for Internet.org, explained why he believes Monday's announcement is significant.

What are the changes you are announcing today to Internet.org?
This is an important step we are taking, opening up Internet.org. This does two things. One, it invites developers to join, which we heard they want to. Two, it gives consumers more choice, which we heard they want as well.

How does it work?
If you are a developer and you have a service, you can join Internet.org if you comply with the principles we will soon publish. The process of joining the platform consists of three principles. The first is, it should encourage people to explore the broader internet. You may have links to other sites from your site, so the people are encouraged to explore beyond the basic services. Second is that you must develop a simpler version of your service to be a free basic service.

The second principle is around efficiency. This model has to work for the operators and for the business model. We need things that are data efficient on the network. Services like video or high-resolution photos aren't going to be a god fit in a free, basic service.

The third principle is a set of technical guidelines. These are technical requirements in order to zero-rate the traffic. These include guidelines such as https protocol can't be included, neither can javascript.

Currently there are around 30-odd sites on Internet.org in India. Opening it up and inviting developers could mean there could be a lot more sites on the platform. Are the operators going to be happy about this?
It has to work for operators in the long-term. What we believe though is that giving consumers more choice will make them experience some of these basic services that are valuable to them and then they can go on to explore the broader internet. When they do that, they will pay for the data, and that does work for the operator.

Is this move to open up Internet.org to developers in response to the net neutrality debate in India, as part of which Internet.org has been widely criticised as violating net neutrality principles?
We always wanted to provide more basic services as part of Internet.org. It was part of our long-term roadmap. The debate here certainly accelerated our plans. The debate also gave us an opportunity to go to all the constituents of the debate and hear how they see Internet.org, the benefits they see from it and the concerns people have about it.

The most interesting feedback we saw was from consumers, who were positive about programmes that bring people online. When we listened to the people spearheading the net neutrality debate, the primary things we heard were around consumer choice and making sure that any developer can join. Today we have addressed those.

Some content partners have exited Internet.org in India to support net neutrality. These include travel website Cleartrip and news conglomerates NDTV and The Times of India. Are you concerned about the future of Internet.org in India?
If you look globally, Internet.org is in nine countries right now. There hasn't been anywhere else that people have exited. I am very optimistic about Internet.org globally and in India, because we are providing a fantastic service for people to come online. It's working for consumers and mobile operators and now it will also work for the developer community.

There will still be people who will say that Internet.org is a violation of the net neutrality principle, as it creates a free and a paid lane, and one such discrimination in data is allowed, operators might use it to argue for fast lanes and slow lanes, and so on.
I don’t believe that Internet.org is a violation of net neutrality. I believe that that programmes that bring more people online must co-exist with net neutrality. We agree with the principles of net neutrality – that there shouldn’t be fast lanes, throttling, etcetera.

Programmes that are specifically designed to bring more people online are good for the entire ecosystem and the entire world.

It is important to differentiate between different kinds of zero-rating services. With Internet.org, the key feature is that there is no money paid by Facebook or other content providers to the operator. The only way Internet.org works for operators is that more people come online. That’s the only business model that works. It aligns incentives. The only thing Facebook does pay for is marketing Internet.org so that people who are not online come to know about it.

What would you say to those that Internet.org isn’t about bringing more people online but only increasing the monthly active users of Facebook.
That notion is absolutely false. Internet.org has roughly 30 content partners in India. Facebook and Facebook Messenger are only two of them, listed just like the other sites. We really people that people should come online and experience the entire wealth of the internet. That would be good for the entire ecosystem, and thus also Facebook. But that’s not our primary goal here. Our primary goal is that those who are not online should also experience the benefits of the internet.

Isn’t it strange that Internet.org wants to offer free basic services but has no email?
If an email provider wants to comply with the platform guidelines that we are announcing, Internet.org would be glad to have it.

What has been the consumer reception like for Internet.org in India? How many people are using it and how many people has it helped discover the internet?

We have seen it bring more people to the internet. We have seen data that shows it is bringing more people online. Unfortunately, I can't share any specific statistics. Those are between the operator and us.

What do the global numbers look like?
Our efforts have brought 8 million people to the internet, whom we believe would not be on the internet otherwise. Internet.org today is available today in countries or regions that cover roughly 800 million people. We are saying the adoption of internet.org continues to grow. We are in nine countries and will add more to the list. We are in this for the long haul.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.