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Nothing is better than something, or the paternalistic approach to the Internet

Well before zero rating, poor people in Indonesia were telling us how they used Facebook, a few minutes after telling us they were not Internet users. This seemed like a choice they had made. We reported it, and actually made it a part of the argument we used to beat back the misbegotten effort by ETNO and friends to impose sending-party-network-pays on the Internet through WCIT. At that point, no one complained about how wrong it was that the Indonesian poor was not using the full range of knowledge and information available on the web.

But now they are.

“The Internet in Myanmar is Facebook,” says Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, of the country he visited this winter. Only about one percent of Burma is online, but the country is trending toward connectivity: mobile subscriptions climbed from 12,000 in 2000 to nearly 7 million in 2013. The tension, says Zuckerman, is that while some zero-rated apps like one created by Wikipedia have the potential to broaden users’ access to information, when those users can only reach the Web through Facebook it could limit that exposure. “The future in which Facebook is the Internet of the developing world looks really scary,” he says, “and zero-rating is probably the easiest way for Facebook to get there.”

Facebook is not a walled garden. People who tried walled gardens failed. Why worry about people keeping in touch with their friends and communicating with them for free? If they do not get zero rating, will they use the full Internet? Or just have nothing?

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