Technology tutors and scientists of premier educational institutions in the country have strongly criticised Facebook's Free Basics, a service that provides free of cost internet access to the people of India.
The academic community including professors from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in Mumbai, Kharagpur and Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to discard Facebook's plan keeping in view "the citizens' rights to use their own public utility, the internet."
"Allowing a private entity to define for Indian internet users what is 'basic', to control what content costs how much, and to have access to the personal content created and used by millions of Indians, is a lethal combination which will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians can use their own public utility, the internet," said a joint statement from the academic community.
Many experts have criticised the Facebook's Free Basics, which was earlier known as internet.org, saying that it is against the "spirit of net neutrality".
Net neutrality means "Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites."
TRAI has sought comments from various agencies and will finalise on the advantages of Free Basics in January. Last week, the telecom regulator had asked the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications (RCom) to halt Facebook's Free Basics services for the time being.
"Facebook's Free Basics is a disingenuous way of trying to solve a problem of access. The regulator should see through this attempt by Facebook and not allow any of these distortions of the market," Business Standard quoted Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Centre, and a campaigner of Save the Internet, as saying.
The term 'free' in Free Basics is a marketing trick and users have to bear the cost of accessing the services, according to the scientists from IITs and IISc.
"What are the 'basic' digital services Indians will access using their own air waves will be decided by a private corporation, and that too one based on foreign soil. The sheer absurdity of this is too obvious to point out," the scientists said.
The scientists have also raised concerns over Facebook's model saying that the social networking site might be able to decrypt the content in the basic apps that could pose a "potential security threat" to the users.
"Either we get to consider our banking apps to be not 'basic', or risk exposing the financial information of all Indians to Facebook. And so on. This is mind-boggling even under normal circumstances, and even more so considering the recent internal and international snooping activities by the NSA in the US," they said.