The Global Struggle against Free Basics

//CGCS Visiting Scholar Till Waescher explains that India’s recent ban on Facebook’s zero-rating initiative is a huge victory for both domestic and transnational privacy advocates

While many have voiced concerns surrounding Facebook’s Free Basics service’s violation of net neutrality principles, digital rights activists across the world also oppose the service due to privacy concerns. These activists highlight that for impoverished citizens of the ‘Global South’ the data plan is not actually ‘free’ as they pay with their personal data. Although Facebook has pledged to store the data for only 90 days, advocates worry that the company may permanently monitor the Free Basics traffic. A brief look at the debate in India also reveals that the fear of online surveillance was central in the anti-Free Basics movement. For example, Anupam Saraph, a Professor of Systems, Governance and Decision Sciences at the University of Groningen, and an advisor to the World Economic Forum, has called Facebook’s service “more dangerous than the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism Project,” essentially threatening Svarajya, India’s founding narrative of self-rule developed by Gandhi during the struggle for independence.

Critiques of Free Basics being a masked form of ‘digital colonialism’ have accompanied the project from the start—even a major, largely friendly profile in TIME magazine called aspects of Free Basics “distasteful”. (An unfortunate, quickly deleted tweet by board member Marc Andreessen seemed to confirm critics who accused Facebook of having a colonial mentality.) Activists around the world have noted that Free Basics effectively resembles the British Empire and brings in algorithms from the ‘North’ to data-mine the ‘South.’  While the Indian government’s eventual decision to not greenlight Facebook’s initiative was mainly the result of national discourse and activism within India, the international attention the issue received certainly helped. One of the core mechanisms of any form of transnational contention – lifting local or national concerns to the international level[1] – is applied in this case as well. Through globally coordinated efforts, activists and advocates within and outside of India managed to put the Free Basic controversy on the international news agenda.


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How the Internet Was Saved… and Why the Battle Continues

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//Annenberg Assistant Professor Victor Pickard discusses the FCC’s February 2015 decision to pass strong net neutrality rules. This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post and can be accessed here

Last week’s historic decision by the FCC to pass strong net neutrality protections is both closure to a 13-year-long struggle and an opening salvo for battles to come. In one of the most important public interest decisions in American media policy history, the FCC, in a 3-2 party-line vote, reclassified broadband as a common carrier telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act.

What this means is that the FCC now has the regulatory authority to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against (blocking or slowing down) online content or creating fast and slow lanes based on whether content creators can afford to pay up. This is a big deal, and the excitement is warranted. But potential threats abound.

In the near term, we should expect continued court challenges and efforts from the Republican-led Congress to undercut the FCC’s regulatory authority if not seek outright reversal. We have yet to see the final wording of the ruling, but potential litigants are reportedly lawyering up for judicial review, and AT&T has already announced its intent to sue. Beyond the decision being vacated by a court or Congress, a future reversal from a Republican-led FCC is also possible.

And even preserving net neutrality will not come close to solving our many Internet problems like…

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Dear FCC: Net Neutrality Is Part of a Social Contract


//Annenberg Assistant Professor Victor Pickard discusses the net neutrality debate in the United States, stressing the importance of safeguarding an open internet. This post was originally published on the Huffington Post and can be found here.

With his ringing endorsement for strong net neutrality protections, President Obama has joined a public groundswell for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify the Internet as a utility. This move would not only enable the agency to remain true to its mandate to regulate in the public interest, it would also, according to the President and many of the nearly 4 million Americans who filed comments with the FCC, promote democratic values of openness, fairness and freedom.

Such overwhelming public support for what may seem like a wonky regulatory debate reminds us that net neutrality is and always has been much more than a technocratic squabble over how Internet “pipes” are managed. It’s about the role of media and information in a democratic society, and the role of government — in this case the FCC — to help ensure access to information because…

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The GovLab Selected Curation of Articles on Net-Governance: Issue 41

The Selected Curation of Articles on Net-governance (the SCAN) is a weekly digest on internet governance news, reports, and events produced by the Governance Lab @NYU (the GovLab) as part of the GovLab’s Living Labs on Smarter Governance project. The SCAN is cross-posted weekly from the GovLab on the Internet Policy Observatory. The original posting of the GovLab SCAN- Issue 41, September 5, 2014 can be found here

This week’s highlights:

  • The 9th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) took place in Istanbul, Turkey this week. Topics of significance this year included the transition of the stewardship of the IANA functions, ICANN’s “accountability update”, net neutrality, safeguarding the multistakeholder model, the Internet and human rights, and Internet access. The full schedule can be found here.
  • The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is focusing on reducing anti-competition policies this week in what is viewed as a significant position statement with regards to net neutrality debates.
  • The U.S. Congress will deliberate on two privacy bills when Congress resumes on September 8: The USA FREEDOM Act –currently holding widespread support- and CISA (Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act) –a bill that is currently…

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