Zuckerberg blasts ‘extreme definition’ of net neutrality

Facebook chief executive Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergChina may be copying Facebook to build an intelligence weapon Facebook announces verification to images and video on platform Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE argued against an “extreme definition” of net neutrality on Monday while announcing the expansion of a program to bring basic Internet service to people around the world. 

Facebook announced it would open up its internet.org program to any company that wants to join, as long as it meets certain efficiency and technical specifications.  

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“Some may argue for an extreme definition of net neutrality that says that it’s somehow wrong to offer any more services to support the unconnected, but a reasonable definition of net neutrality is more inclusive,” Zuckerberg said in a video announcing the expansion. “Access equals opportunity. Net neutrality should not prevent access.” 

Pointing out that around 4 billion people are not connected, he added, “It’s not an equal Internet if the majority of people can’t participate.” 

The program is a partnership between Facebook and a number of mobile carriers to bring Internet access to many unconnected parts of the world.  

In a process known as zero-rating, the Internet.org app allows mobile phone users to have free access to dozens of different websites, including news and jobs sites, Bing search, Wikipedia, ESPN, ACCuWeather, Facebook and others.

It has already launched in Indonesia, India and parts of Africa and South America. It is meant to give people a taste of the Internet so they can eventually become paying customers.

The program has been criticized in India by some who argue it goes against net neutrality, the principle that no Internet traffic or app should be prioritized above another. 

The business model of zero-rating became a controversial topic during the U.S. debate about net neutrality. While the Federal Communications Commission has been silent on zero-rating, officials said the agency would hear complaints on those business models on a case-by-case basis under its catch-all net neutrality provision.

Facebook points out that websites participating in the program do not pay to be included.

“Are we a community that values people and improving people’s lives above all else, or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?” Zuckerberg asked. 

Facebook said it has always planned to expand the program. Firms wishing to participate must create features to encourage the exploration of the broader Internet, must remove video and high-resolution photos and meet other specifications.

— This post was updated at 4 p.m.