‘Free Basics’ fails in India, or say no to dog kibble, even if it is free

‘Free Basics’ was one of those enlightened clever ideas whereby the people of India would benefit from Internet connectivity for free, as long as they were ready to endure the walled garden that Facebook intended for them. The Indian regulator banned it as an offence to net neutrality.

India’s internet regulator permanently barred the Free Basics service in a ruling on Monday, finding that the scheme breached the principle of net neutrality by prioritizing some websites over others.Egypt has also banned free basics.

The interesting aspect is the strength of popular feeling against any scheme which, though promising connectivity, limits that connectivity to a small subset of the Internet. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that it is better to have some connectivity rather than none at all. Indians in all walks of life, from what I read, disagreed.

Marc Andreesen stepped into ideological doo-doo when he tweeted this about the TRAI decision:

“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

One would think this rejection by India of a violation of net neutrality would send a message sufficiently clear and strong to those who would reduce or impair the principle. Maybe people just hate a limited Internet, when they know it can be unlimited, and they would rather not get the limited version, even if it means going without any Internet for a few years.

I know a few Canadians of influence who need to ponder this stubborn fact of human nature, irrational as it may seem to them. Their preference for net neutrality is like the stubborn preference of consumers for fixed monthly rates, when every economist says people should prefer the risk of variable pricing. No, says the consumer. I want to pay a fixed amount every month and I do not want the risk of a higher monthly bill. No surprizes, say consumers.

A similar insistence leads consumers to say “No limitations on the Internet”. Although here I think that people are saying, in essence, I am not settling for free dog kibble when I could have decent hamburger, even if I have to pay for it.

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