Tone Deaf Zuckerberg Declares Opposition To Zero Rated Apps An ‘Extremist’ Position That Hurts The Poor

Last month we noted how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been getting a crash course in net neutrality over in India, while the government fields public comment over new neutrality rules. The debate has been particularly heated in regards to Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, which offers free, walled-garden access to some content and services (namely Facebook and its deep pocketed partners). Companies have been vocally dropping out of the effort, complaining they don’t like the idea of Facebook and its partner ISPs getting to decide what content gets to be cap exempt (aka: zero rating).

Zuckerberg has proven to be rather tone deaf to the criticism so far, the CEO arguing repeatedly that creating walled gardens and breaking the very principles of the open Internet is OK — provided you claim to have good intentions (in this case, aiding the poor by marketing to them in a Facebook walled garden). To hear Zuckerberg tell it, what Internet.org is doing can’t possibly violate net neutrality because he’s providing poor families a fractured, Facebook-dominated version of AOL. He’s repeatedly implied that if you oppose Facebook’s vision (and what it will turn into for generations to come), you’re hurting the poor.

With that defense not working, the CEO has taken to the Internet.org website to post a video to try again, announcing that Internet.org is being opened to to a broader selection of websites. And that’s great, until you start reading the massive number of restrictions “approved” content must adhere to. Namely, the websites can’t integrate “VoIP, video, file transfers, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos.” They can’t integrate Flash, Javascript or Java applets. They also can’t use encryption, something that’s increasingly important in developing and developed nations alike.

Now again, Zuckerberg really may have noble intentions here, but the list of restrictions combined with some of the rhetoric from the video suggests an ongoing tone deafness to his critics. After telling a few anecdotes about how Facebook is helping “local fishermen” and “chicken farmers in Zimbabwe,” Zuckerberg wades into the meat of his argument, declaring that those opposed to zero rating apps hold an “extreme” definition of net neutrality:https://player.vimeo.com/video/126762664?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

“Some may argue for an extreme definition of net neutrality that says that it’s somehow wrong to offer any more services to support the unconnected, but a reasonable definition of net neutrality is more inclusive. Access equals opportunity. Net neutrality should not prevent access.”

Except declaring zero rating to be a core net neutrality violation is far from extreme. The governments of Canada, The Netherlands, Norway, Chile, Slovenia, Estonia, Japan, Finland and now potentially India have all passed neutrality rules banning zero rating of apps. Realizing that zero rating makes life more difficult for smaller companies, independents and non-profits isn’t extreme, it’s common sense. Even with Internet.org’s new, wider walled garden gateway, you’ve still got Facebook declaring what is or what isn’t “acceptable content,” which by its very nature runs in stark contrast to the definition of net neutrality.

It’s already insulting to declare opposition to neutrality a position that’s held by “extremists,” but Zuckerberg takes things one step further by declaring these folks are engaged in a form of “intellectual purity” that’s hurting the poor:

“Are we a community that values people and improving people’s lives above all else, or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?”

That’s numerous times over the last few months where Zuckerberg has implied that if you’re opposed to zero rating and Facebook’s vision of a new Compuserve for developing nations, you’re opposed to helping the poor. That’s simply disingenuous and obnoxious. Nothing about opposing zero rating “prevents access,” and nobody is stopping Facebook or Internet.org from funding discounted access to the real Internet. Zuckerberg’s basically cementing his company’s gatekeeper authority over developing nations for generations to come under the bright banner of selfless altruism, then taking offense when told that these countries might just be better off with un-apertured, subsidized access to the real Internet.

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