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Are Zuckerberg and Internet.org Genuinely Good for Panama?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took advantage of his invitation to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama City and met with his CEO counterparts in the region to promote Internet.org, a partnership he initiated between big business, non-profit organizations, and communities, the goal of which is to connect more people to the Internet.

Many media outlets are reporting the announcement made jointly by Zuckerberg and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela that, thanks to Internet.org, Panamanians will now have free access to the Internet. According to the Spanish daily El País, the aim is to “facilitate free access to essential services related to health, safety, transportation and education. The project's implementation has the support of the government.”

But Richard Armuelles, writing for El Blog de Machinarium021, opines that the news may not be as good as it's cracked up to be. According to Armuelles, the public is being sold the “erroneous idea that all Internet will be free in a given country, which is not true. Only certain services that have formed partnerships with Facebook will benefit from this initiative, so my dear fellow blogger or local entrepreneur, you will still have to pay for users to have access to your website.” He adds that:

esto rompe la neutralidad de la web. desde hace mucho tiempo, fundaciones como Mozilla hablan de lo peligroso que es una web en donde no tengamos igualdad de oportunidades. Básicamente, esto no es diferente a un carrier que da “data gratis”, para navegar en Facebook y Whatsapp, haciendo que sea imposible una libre competencia.

this conflicts with net neutrality. For a while now, companies like Mozilla have talked about the dangers of a Web in which users don't enjoy equality of opportunity. Basically, this is no different from a carrier who provides “free data” so users can navigate on Facebook and WhatsApp, making a free market impossible.

Richard also argues that business interests are being served under the guise of providing charity, concluding that:

Internet.org en Panamá es todo menos beneficioso. Resuelve un problema de conectividad, pero a un precio mayor y lamentablemente sin muchas soluciones que realmente sean neutrales y justas para todos.

Internet.org in Panama may be many things but it is no free lunch. It solves a connectivity problem, but at a higher price and unfortunately without the kind of solutions that are truly neutral and equitable for everyone.

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