Enron and Facebook in India

The Guardian has an excellent, lengthy report on Facebook’s disastrous attempt to plant itself at the center of India’s Internet sectors by offering to the poor rural areas, initially,

…a threadbare platform that only allowed access to 36 bookmarked sites and Facebook, which was naturally the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. Facebook’s stripped-down internet was reminiscent of old search engines that listed the early web on one page, when it was small enough to be categorised, like books in a library.

Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour – backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” – but retained total control of the platform.

Opposition to the plans grew louder and louder, particularly in the tech communities who were strongly in favor of existing net-neutrality standards, prompting Facebook to ramp up a poorly planned propaganda campaign, which sparked more opposition, until eventually the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) declared that net neutrality would be upheld–which made Facebook’s segregated Internet network effectively illegal.

Overall, its a fascinating case of the intersection of cyberspace and imperialism; the Internet has been at the leading edge of new forms of capital accumulation for nearly two decades now, and so predictably this is now impacting the Third World–which has been since the 18th century or so the leading edge of new geographic areas for capital accumulation.

I can’t help but be reminded of the mess Enron made in the 1990s through a similarly opportunistic attempt at profiteering in India via a massive and nonsensical  multi-billion dollar power plant project in Maharashtra.  Of course, this was a much worse project, considering that Enron actually sunk money into the project and eventually collapsed as a corporation.

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