Internet.org is an organization founded by Facebook to help get billions of people in the developing world online. The project is losing support in India, where critics say its practice of "zero-rating" threatens net neutrality.
As a result of the criticism, major Indian companies including the Times Group (which publishes the Times of India), travel website Cleartrip.com, and TV channel NDTV have announced plans to stop supporting Internet.org.
The Times of India claims that Internet.org's practice of "zero-rating" contradicts the idea of net neutrality. Internet.org largely provides Internet access through mobile phones. Under the terms of the connections some apps are "zero-rated," meaning that the data consumption from these apps does not count against a wireless subscriber's data allocation. Critics argue that these zero-rated apps have an unfair advantage over competitors.
Facebook launched Internet.org in India in February, partnering with wireless carrier Reliance to provide free access to 37 websites. Facebook itself and the Times Group, Cleartrip.com, and NDTV were among the 37 companies. Mark Zuckerberg on April 14 attempted to quell the controversy by saying zero-rating can coexist with net neutrality in an article for the Hindustan Times, but the loss of support from major partners threatens the whole project in India.
"We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level playing field for all companies - big and small - to produce the best service and offer it to consumers," said a spokesman for The Times of India. "We will lead the drive towards a neutral Internet, but we need our fellow publishers and content providers to do so as well, so that the playing field continues to be level."
Zuckerberg argues that zero-rating doesn't go against the idea of net neutrality because "Internet.org doesn't block or throttle any other services, or create fast lanes." The Facebook CEO is correct in that he is not creating fast lanes like the ones that were proposed in the U.S. before laws were changed in March, but it's hard to argue that zero-rating doesn't give the participating companies an advantage.