Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it his personal mission to bring Internet access to everyone on the planet. It’s no small task, and as with most things Facebook does, it’s running into a little bit of consumer backlash along the way.
One of those obstacles has been a group of opponents, particularly in India, who claim Facebook’s Free Basics app, a zero-rating app with a select group of free Internet services, violates the concept of net neutrality (zero-rating apps are those that don’t count against a user’s data allowance). In other words, because Facebook is the gatekeeper for which services are included in the app, Facebook is controlling which parts of the Internet people can see.
Zuckerberg has dismissed these claims with regularity over the past six months, and he did so again on Wednesday from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India. Speaking to a group of local residents and students, Zuckerberg said that bringing Internet to the masses should be our “moral responsibility.”
It’s not just a smart move, it’s the just move.
When asked about the net neutrality claims, Zuckerberg reiterated that Facebook supports an open and equal Internet. He pointed out that most of the people complaining about Internet.org, the umbrella effort to bring Internet access to everyone, are already online. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.
“Most of the folks who are pushing for net neutrality have access to the Internet already. I see these petitions going around around net neutrality — and that’s great. We need to mobilize on the Internet to push for this stuff. But the people who are not yet on the Internet can’t sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the Internet. We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who do not have the Internet and make sure that the rules that benefit us and make sure that operators can’t do anything that hurts us don’t get twisted to hurt people who don’t have a voice.”
One interesting thing to point out: Zuckerberg mentioned the need for operators — the companies actually providing the free data plans needed to run Free Basics — to remain net neutral as well. Facebook and the operators still have a precarious relationship. Regulators in India are currently weighing implementing nationwide telecom legislation, including the country’s first rules on net neutrality. A chief concern for India’s wireless carriers is regulation of over-the-top messaging services, which the carriers claim are eating at their revenue. Of course, the biggest OTT in India is WhatsApp, which Zuckerberg owns.
That may be why Zuckerberg dropped this stat Wednesday as well: “Within about a month, about half of the people who have tried out Free Basics … become full paying customers of the whole Internet.”
Put another way: Facebook’s Internet.org service is driving business for its operator partners. Facebook can’t bring Internet to everyone without operator help. It’s not surprising then that Zuckerberg wants to highlight how they’re benefiting, too.
Additional reporting by Mark Bergen.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.