Like you, I’ve been hearing of Free Basics for a long while now. We’ve all witnessed very strong opposition to Free Basics by Facebook, from those of us who are aware of the finer details and implications. There are, also, a few who see reason in letting Free Basics continue because it’s apparently altruistic.
Irrespective of which side of the debate you are on, you can’t deny that altruists are seldom worth several billion dollars. That could be my opinion, but if to be able to give, you ought to make huge sums first. As Shah Rukh Khan advised students of the University of Edinburgh last year, ‘don’t become a philosopher before you become rich.’ He may be a Bollywood star and an actor, but he’s spelled out an underlying reality. There’s a deep-rooted inclination towards creating wealth. And also the diminishing of lines between creating wealth for a certain few, and the whole wide world out there.
Philanthropy when genuine does impact people’s lives. Only the Free Basics kind of movement isn’t one of those. There’s a larger movement in the tech industry that emphasizes giving back. And many have opened up their coffers to dole out huge sums as part of philanthropic efforts. Here’s a list of several others who have given back to society without any fine print.
So more than anything, Google’s move to connect hundreds of railway stations in India is welcome. From a perception and communication point of view, it gets full points. But before we take a look at Google, I’d like to highlight the points mentioned by Facebook as to why we need to have access to the internet.
Mark Zuckerberg had written a blog for the Times of India. And there was a point raised by Zuckerberg that makes absolute sense. He remarked, “In the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights.” I agree 100 percent. Every single one of us deserves access to tools and information to be able to achieve what we set out to achieve in this highly competitive world – the kind that makes us leaders in our own right. And hopefully, transform the world and make it better.
So how do we do that? By getting access to information. The world may not change with access to free Wi-Fi at an Indian railway station, but it’s a significant step in the right direction. Progress will happen by empowerment, not by wasting time online. Just ponder for a while over the state of the Internet in India, and you’d realize a lot needs to change.
The need of the hour is free to access to the Internet. With no fine print. That could happen through the industry and the government of India working together. And the free Wi-Fi at Mumbai Central railway station today is the first step in the right direction. Probably there’s something in there for Facebook to consider. When the world around needs access to the Internet and you provide it for free, then the world will take a step towards fulfilling your sales and revenue targets.