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Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Please stop misleading open Internet advocates around the globe

Facebook’s attempts to provide restricted Internet access to the world’s poorest people through its “Free Basics” program continue to raise concerns around the world.

Facebook’s attempts to provide restricted Internet access to the world’s poorest people through its “Free Basics” program continue to raise concerns around the world.

Most recently, the platform has been causing a stir in India, as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is debating net neutrality legislation that will impact whether or not Free Basics is able to operate within one of the world’s largest Internet markets.

This morning OpenMedia joined 29 other organizations from around the world (including our good friends at Access Now) in publishing an open letter to Facebook, expressing continued concerns about its Free Basics platform and the company’s actions against Net Neutrality in India.

The problem is, Free Basics creates a two-tiered Internet. Instead of providing free access to the Internet as we know it, the platform provides limited access to a select number of sites – cutting off access to the rest of the Internet to its users. This amounts to a fake Internet platform that controls what billions of new or soon-to-be Internet users can do online.

OpenMedia first raised concerns (also here) with Free Basics under its original name, “Internet.org”, and has been running a campaign with nearly 60,000 supporters signed on to oppose Zuckerberg’s fake Internet plan.

We also put up a crowdfunded billboard in Facebook’s back yard to make sure the social media giant knows where Internet users stand. You can see it in all its glory here.

And we reached out to Facebook with an in-depth letter outlining our issues. Since then, we have continued dialogue with Facebook, and hope that the platform will be modified to allow unfettered access to the Internet, without Facebook acting as a gatekeeper.

Our message is clear: all Internet users deserve equal and unfettered access to an open Internet.

OpenMedia will continue to work to ensure that Free Basics adequately respects the needs and rights of its users. You can join us by signing the petition at NoFakeInternet.org.

Here’s the letter we and 29 other organizations sent to Facebook this morning:

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

You have said that “connecting the world is one of the greatest challenges of our generation.” We all agree. We also believe that a connectivity agenda must respect the right of all to equally access, receive and impart information. For this reason, we are concerned about Facebook’s recent attacks on the millions of internet users in India and around the world who have fought, and who continue to fight, for Net Neutrality.

First up we would like to acknowledge that Facebook has positively responded to the public’s concerns by making important fixes to the security, privacy, and transparency of Internet.org and Free Basics. But we are troubled about recent actions regarding Free Basics in India.

Facebook is encouraging its users to take action against Net Neutrality rules and protections being considered by the Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Facebook has been urging users in India, and Facebook users in the United States and the United Kingdom (recognized by Facebook as a mistake), to sign a petition that claims that “a small, vocal group of critics… demand that people pay equally to access all Internet services, even if that means one billion people can’t afford to access any services,” and that “unless you take action now, India could lose access to free basic Internet services, delaying progress towards digital equality for all Indians.”

These claims are disingenuous and serve only to create oppositional camps that many of us have worked hard to overcome.

The group of people supporting Net Neutrality is not small, and it vocally advocates for the digital equality Facebook claims to support. It includes more than a million Indian users, elected political representatives, development workers, respected platform providers, and technology leaders.

It is concerning that Facebook — which says it supports Net Neutrality — would attack those who have sought to enshrine this fundamental principle in law. Such a move is an insult to millions in the fast-growing global community that cares about safeguarding the open internet.

In addition, Facebook’s actions embolden telecommunications carriers in their broader efforts to stop Net Neutrality protections from being passed across the world — particularly in emerging nations and elsewhere in the Global South — by creating the false impression that there is a grassroots movement opposed to Net Neutrality. You have repeatedly voiced support for Net Neutrality, so we are confused as to why Facebook is now portraying Net Neutrality advocates as opponents.

Meanwhile, in its quest to gain support for its controversial Free Basics program, Facebook continues to assert statistics and arguments — most recently in a full-page ad in some of India’s biggest newspapers — that lack proper sourcing and that rely on straw man arguments. Rather than create digital equality as your petition claims, Facebook’s Free Basics program risks exacerbating digital inequality. It creates a paradigm in which services from Facebook and its Free Basics partners are free, while everything else remains paid. At most the world’s poorest people get partial access at most to the internet. If you think access to the internet is a right like access to health care and clean drinking water, then Facebook should support affordable access to the entire internet for everyone, not access only to those services that Facebook or its partners deem acceptable.

Finally, it’s necessary to correct the public record on a crucial issue regarding Net Neutrality regulations. Contrary to another of Facebook’s assertions, Net Neutrality rules in the European Union do not endorse the practice of zero rating. Rather, Free Basics falls well outside the definition of “internet access” in the new EU legislation. Similar rules in the United States and Canada allow for consideration of violations on a case-by-case basis.

As India and other countries determine their Net Neutrality rules, we ask that Facebook meaningfully and respectfully engages with ordinary users, activists and advocates without engaging in unfounded and divisive attacks.


Access Now – Global

ACI – Participa – Honduras

Asociación Colombiana de Usuarios de Internet (ACUI) – Colombia

Center for Cyber Security Pakistan – Pakistan

Center for Media Justice – United States

Data Roads Foundation – United States

Fight for the Future – United States

Free Press – United States

Free Software Movement of India – India

Fundación Acceso – Central America

Future of Music Coalition – United States

International Modern Media Institute – Iceland

Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan – Pakistan

Intervozes – Brazil


IT for Change – India

Just Net Coalition – Global

Media Alliance – United States

Media Mobilizing Project – United States

OpenMedia – International

R3D, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales – Mexico

Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) – Canada

SavetheInternet.in – India

Society for Knowledge Commons – India

SonTusDatos (Artículo 12, A.C.) – Mexico

Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC.in) – India

TEDIC – Paraguay

Unwanted Witness – Uganda

Usuarios Digitales – Ecuador

Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum – Zimbabwe


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