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An ‘Open’ Platform With Regulations? Save The Internet Takes On Zuckerberg’s Townhall Speech

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By Save The Internet:

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

We thank you for your recent visit and your continued interest in India. As a group of volunteers part of the Save the Internet Campaign, we have been engaging on the issue of Network Neutrality for much of the past year. It is a matter of distress that Facebook, through its internet.org platform and in its lobbying on regulatory consultations, has sought to undermine Net Neutrality in India and also increasingly questioned the motives of more than a million Indians who have participated in consultations organised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as well as the Department of Telecom.

Image source: askiitian
Image source: askiitian

Yesterday (28th October), in your townhall address at IIT Delhi, you mentioned that “Those who don’t have access to the Internet cannot sign online petitions,” trying to make a case that those who oppose of your Net Neutrality violating Internet.org/Free Basics service are campaigning against those who do not have Internet access. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of us have benefited from the Internet because of the openness, plurality and diversity it has to offer. We want more people to get access to the internet—the entire internet—and not primarily the filter for the web that you have set up with Internet.org/Free Basics. We’d like to remind you that Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founding fathers of the Internet who strives for expanding its use by the entire web recently called Zero Rating “Economic Discrimination”, saying that “Economic discrimination is just as harmful as technical discrimination, so ISPs will still be able to pick winners and losers online.”

Even today, Internet.org has restrictions that those services which compete with telecom operator services will not be allowed on it. WhatsApp would have never emerged on this platform. You also reserve the right to reject services from Internet.org. We fail to understand why, if it is an open platform, someone even needs to apply, and conform to your pre-defined technical limitations, and has to go through unspecified checks determined by your organization.

Internet.org is not an open platform, and all we are asking for, is for you to ensure that any such effort to bring access to the Internet ensure that users get access to the entire Internet, and not through a pre-determined menu or filter, which primarily benefits those who are selected for the platform. While we understand that there is currently no paid arrangement between Facebook, its partners and telecom operators, and you’ve suggested that this is a philanthropic endeavour, there is no undertaking from you that there won’t be any future arrangements for Facebook’s benefit. Internet businesses like Facebook and Google have been built around the idea of offering services for free in the beginning, and then monetization through means such as advertising. This is keeping in mind the choice of the “.com” URL for FreeBasics.com, as opposed to a “.org” for Internet.org.

You’ve also suggested that universal access is more important than Net Neutrality, and that there is a possibility of taking Net Neutrality “too far”. That is plausible if, and only if there aren’t any options available which provide universal access without violating Net Neutrality. Some examples, in case you haven’t heard of them:

1. The Mozilla Foundation runs a program with Grameenphone, where users get free data in exchange for watching an advertisement.

2. The Mozilla Foundation also runs a program with Orange in Africa, where those who purchase a $37 handset get 500 MB of free data.

3. There are data cashback schemes such as Gigato offer data for free, for surfing some sites. Airtel has launched night plans, which give data as a cashback upon usage of the Internet between midnight and 6am, helping bring cost of access down.

Therefore, one does not have to choose between Universal Access and Net Neutrality.

Qualitative research has found that less experienced, low income groups prefer access to an open and unrestricted Internet, and “some access is better than none”, but the trade-off they are willing to make is how much they use the internet, not necessarily how much of the internet they get to use. Therefore, the research indicates that users also don’t want that false choice between Net Neutrality and Access.

It’s also a matter of concern that data for all the websites on Internet.org will be with Facebook, and restrictions are placed on them publicly disclosing usage of their sites and services by users on Internet.org. Apart from the fact that no open platform places such restrictions, this data and the learnings gained from it gives a competitive advantage to Facebook, because of the competitive advantage given to Internet.org by its telecom operator partners.

Lastly, we’d like to point out that Free Basics does nothing to help address India’s key problem—not one of getting more users online, given that the IAMAI has reported that we’ve added as many as 52 million Internet users in the last six months alone—but of improving access infrastructure so that users get seamless high speed connectivity. We need to focus on growing the pie, not splitting the pie. Our concern with Internet.org/Free Basics is that it will create a new digital divide: those who access Facebook and its partner services, and those who access the open Internet.

There are ways of providing Internet access in a manner that is open, so that everyone gets access to the whole of the Internet, without discrimination between web services, and without violating Net Neutrality. Don’t forget that Facebook benefited from this openness and neutrality. Facebook, along with its intentions to connection billions to the Internet, should support and advocate for Net Neutrality and permissionless innovation in India, the way it has done in the US.

Signed,
The Savetheinternet.in team

This post was originally published on the Save The Internet blog.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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