BENGALURU: Facebook’s battle for Free Basics looks set to intensify . Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s longtime lieutenant and Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox will be in New Delhi early this week, a visit that sources say is part of the network’s campaign to muster support for its Free Basics programme.
Cox, who some have called the “best voice” in Facebook for his ability to show the sentimental side of the social networking giant’s products, is scheduled to meet some 30 entrepreneurs at a roundtable discussion. Among those expected to participate are Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, one of the most vocal critics of Free Basics, Practo co-founder Shashank N D and Limeroad co-founder Suchi Mukherjee. Sources said the discussion would centre around how tech products are reshaping customer experiences, but Free Basics too would be part of the agenda. Free Basics, which al lows people to browse selected health, jobs, social and local portals without data charges, has met with significant resistance in India. While Facebook, which will be among the free offerings, argues that Free Basics will help to expand significantly the access and reach of the internet, benefiting the poor in particular, opponents say it will raise the cost of access for those not part of the free package, and discriminate against those seeking to compete with the free offerings -a violation of the widely-accepted principle of keeping the net neutral.
Several countries have allowed Free Basics. In India, telecom regulator TRAI is expected to decide on the matter by the end of this month. Facebook has been running an incessant and expensive campaign in the run-up to the TRAI decision.
Chris Cox, one of the highest-paid executives in Facebook, helped build the first versions of key Facebook features, including News Feed, Pages, and other connections, like Groups and events.
“I’m meeting Cox at a roundtable with a clutch of other entrepreneurs,” said Paytm’s Sharma. Sharma had in December slammed Free Basics on Twitter: “Oh my fellow Indians, either choose this (Free Basics) & do a jihaad for independent internet later or pick #NetNeutrality today .” TOI had subsequently reported that Zuckerberg called Sharma for a discussion on Free Basics.
Cox is expected to discuss how Indian entrepreneurs could leverage Facebook by integrating their products with the social networking platform.”There has been a buildup to this meeting for nearly a month. Facebook wants to share best practices and understand Indian consumer needs better,” said a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur who will be participating in the event.