Amid criticism, Facebook defends commitment to net neutrality

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Friday defended his company’s commitment to net neutrality after a number of firms pulled out of an Internet.org program in India. 

The broader program is a partnership between Facebook and a number of mobile carriers to bring Internet access to many parts of the world that are not connected or cannot afford it. 

Facebook has recently received criticism for the Internet.org app it rolled out in India in February, which some say goes against the spirit of net neutrality principles by favoring certain websites.  

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In a process known as zero-rating, the app allows mobile phone users to have free access to around 35 different websites if they own a smartphone, including news and jobs sites, Bing search, ESPN, ACCuWeather, Facebook and others.

“We’re proud of this progress,” Zuckerberg said in a post. “But some people have criticized the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this.”

He added: “To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free. If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.”

The media organization, The Times of India, and a number of other companies participating in the program recently announced they would be pulling out. 

The business model of zero-rating became a controversial topic during the U.S. debate about net neutrality, the idea that service providers should not prioritize any one area of Internet traffic above another. While the Federal Communications Commission has been silent on zero-rating, officials said the commission would hear complaints on those business models on a case-by-case basis under its catch-all net neutrality provision.

Zuckerberg said killing the Internet.org app would not narrow the digital divide or increase social inclusion. 

“Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes — and it never will. We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining. We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected.”