One fine day last month, Facebook users were urged to send a message to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), saying that they supported ‘Free Basics’. It turned out that ‘Free Basics’ was Internet.org with a new name. The debate around Internet.org continues, though. Is its violation of net neutrality important, or does it truly help those with no access to the Internet? Is its behaviour of telling you through fake notifications that your friends support Free Basics and hence you should too, a precedent for monopolistic crazy that’s headed our way? And is it superfluous for us to debate this in our armchairs, when we could be listening to the opinions of users who are being targeted by Free Basics?
Khabar Lahariya, an all-women newspaper that is sold across 800 villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, asked around. Here are two people they interviewed in Khurhand village, Mahua block, UP –Smriti Shukla [right], an MA first year student, and Sangeeta [left], a computer science teacher:
For those who want to read rather than watch: “Kyunki Facebook se hamaara kuchh ho nahi sakta, jitna Google na hoga saath mein. Google se sahi jaankaari milti hain humko. Youtube bhi sahi, kyunki Google se jis jaankari cheez … video sahi dekh sakte hain use Youtube pe. Woh sabhi free nahin hain.”
To paraphrase: Facebook isn’t as useful to us as Google is. Google gives us useful information. So does Youtube. But Google and Youtube won’t be free.
Want to hear more? Here’s a short audio clip of a discussion among the following Khabar Lahariya editors about Free Basics: Rizwana Tabssum, (Bureau Chief, Varanasi) Lakshmi (Bureau Chief, Lucknow) and Kavita, Editor, Khabar Lahariya.
A summary of their conversation: On the one hand, they argue that, for people who have never used the Internet or Facebook, this could be a good way to start – and that Facebook could possibly help people find jobs and contact hospitals in emergencies. But on the other hand, they wonder why the government has linked itself only with Facebook, and has thereby limited rural India’s experience of the Internet so severely. Agricultural labourers should be able to research information that could help their work, they argue, and just weather information on Facebook may not be enough.
And that’s the real lowdown.
Khabar Lahariya originally posted the interview video on Twitter and the audio clip on Youtube.