Mark Zuckerberg: net neutrality is a first-world problem

Facebook founder says some net neutrality advocates go too far when they criticise efforts to bring internet to developing countries

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has hit out at net neutrality advocates who claim that zero-rating – the practice of offering access to certain popular online services for free – should be prohibited.

Hosting a townhall Q&A session at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi earlier today, Mr Zuckerberg emphasised Facebook’s support for net neutrality – the principle that all websites should be equally accessible.

He said that Facebook supports regulation that prevents internet service providers from charging users for access to certain content, or from giving their own services an unfair advantage over rival services.

“That’s the kind of thing you can see hurts people, and you want net neutrality regulations in place that are going to prevent that,” he said.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addresses the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi

He also said that the company’s Internet.org initiative – which provides free access to a selection of web services including Facebook, Google Search, Wikipedia, AccuWeather and BBC News via a mobile app – is built on an open platform, with no throttling or filtering.

However, in the case of zero-rating, he said that some people take the principle of net neutrality too far.

“When you have a student who is getting free access to the internet to help do her homework, and she wouldn’t have had access otherwise, who’s getting hurt there? We want that. There should be more of that,” he said.

“If there’s a fisherman in a village who now has some free access to the internet to help sell some of his fish and provide for his family, no one gets hurt by that. And that’s good. We need to get everyone on the internet.”

He added that most of the people that are pushing for net neutrality have access to the internet already.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addresses the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi

“I see these petitions going around about net neutrality and that’s great, we need to mobilise on the internet on this stuff. But the people who are not yet on the internet cannot sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the internet,” he said.

“We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who do not have the internet and make sure that the rules that benefit us, and make sure that operators can’t do anything that hurts us, don’t get twisted to hurt people that don’t have a voice.”

Mr Zuckerberg’s comments come after the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal that aims to protect “net neutrality”.

As well as ensuring that internet providers offer a clear explanation of what download and upload speeds customers can expect, the legislation allows them to create “fast lanes” where websites can pay to have their content delivered more quickly.

It also allows zero-rating, which some legal experts and net neutrality advocates warn could allow companies like Facebook to become a monopoly, with other services eating up significantly more of mobile web users’ data allowances.

“Around the world, all the regulations that are put in place are basically honouring this principle – so good net neutrality provisions, blocking things that operators might do that hurt people, but also prioritising things like zero-rating that are necessary for making sure that we can connect everyone to the internet,” said Mr Zuckerberg.

“Just this week the EU released rules on net neutrality and zero rating where again they put in place some net neutrality rules, but were very clear that zero rating and things that provide some free access to the internet are clear to go. They’re going to be regulated separately and are not prohibited by any of the net neutrality regulations.”

Earlier this year, a group of Indian technology and internet companies pulled out of the Internet.org initiative, claiming that it threatened net neutrality.

Travel portal Cleartrip.com and media giant Times Group both announced that they would be withdrawing from the service, citing competition fears, and Times Group also called on other publishers to do the same.

The Internet.org app is currently available in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Colombia and parts of India. However, Facebook plans to expand the service, with Mr Zuckerberg promising to make it available wherever people need to be connected.

As well as the app, the Internet.org partnership is also looking at providing internet access in places that are currently unconnected using solar-powered drones, which can beam down laser-guided internet signals from the sky.

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