Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has compared his company's Free Basics service with libraries and hospitals, in a staunch defence of the product which provides free, but limited, Internet access. The service has faced opposition in India where regulators asked Facebook's Free Basics partner, Reliance Communications, to suspend it temporarily earlier this month.
Critics have it accused it of violating net neutrality – the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally – by offering some services for free, so giving them an advantage over competitors. Others have accused Facebook of acting as a gatekeeper, permitting some services but rejecting others.
Defending the service in an opinion piece published in The Times of India, the country's biggest selling English language newspaper, Zuckerberg said that although libraries do not offer every book to read and hospitals can't cure every illness, they still provide a "world of good".
"We know that for every 10 people connected to the internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty," he wrote. "We know that for India to make progress, more than 1 billion people need to be connected to the internet. That's not theory. That's fact."
He added: "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. That's why everyone also deserves access to free basic Internet services."
Calling the debate about the service surprising he said that instead of wanting to give people access to basic internet services for free "critics of the program continue to spread false claims — even if that means leaving behind a billion people".
He added that basic internet services should be supported by people who "accept that everyone deserves access to the internet".
"That's why more than 30 countries have recognized Free Basics as a program consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers," he said. "Who could possibly be against this?"
For the past few weeks, Facebook run a series of adverts in Indian newspapers designed to bolster support for Free Basics. But groups such as the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) have launched their own campaign against it, claiming that Facebook is misleading users and that the social network could introduce ads to the service in the future.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will decide whether Free Basics and similar services are legal in early January.