Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, Oct. 28, 2015. In an opinion piece, Mr. Zuckerberg said everyone deserves access to free basic Internet services.
Money Sharma/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Facebook Inc. founder, Mark Zuckerberg, on Monday fired another salvo in the company’s marketing blitz for its controversial Free Basics Internet service that has faced opposition in India, home to the world’s largest offline population.
In an opinion piece published in the Times of India, the country’s biggest-selling English-language daily, Mr. Zuckerberg defended his company’s Free Basics service, which provides free, but limited, Internet access.
He compared Free Basics to a library—which houses only a selection of books—as well as to public healthcare and education.
“Everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic Internet services,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.
Free Basics allows users to access a small number of Web services without charge.
The service has been criticized by people who say it violates the principle of net neutrality, a concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
They say that Free Basics violates this by offering some services for free, giving them an advantage over competitors.
Critics also say that Facebook acts as a gatekeeper for Free Basics, permitting some services, while rejecting others.
Controversy over the service led Indian regulators to ask Reliance Communications, Facebook’s Free Basics partner in India, to suspend it temporarily this month.
Mr. Zuckerberg said that India’s progress depended on providing Web access to the 1 billion Indians without it.
The social network’s founder wrote in his piece, titled “Free Basics Protects Net Neutrality,” that the service “is a bridge to the full Internet and digital equality.”
“Who could possibly be against this?” he added.
For the past few weeks, Facebook has blanketed India in advertisements designed to bolster support for Free Basics. Two-page ads in Indian newspapers have asked people to dial a 1-800 number to “support digital equality.”
On Facebook, Indian users are prompted to sign a letter supporting the service, which is then emailed to the Indian regulator. And, on video-sharing site YouTube, a banner ad urges people to watch a pitch for Free Basics.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will decide whether Free Basics and similar services are legal in early January.