Facebook’s controversial Free Basics initiative may have been banned in India, but it is still available in over 40 countries around the world. Now, Facebook is said to be looking at the possibility of introducing it in the US. Facebook is in talks with White House officials to discuss ways in which Free Basics can be introduced in the US, without inviting the wrath of net neutrality activists like it did in India. Also Read - WhatsApp violates Indian users' rights by denying dispute resolution claims CentreAlso Read - Facebook to pay French news publishers for using its content
Facebook is looking at targeting Free Basics aka Internet.org at the ‘low-income and rural Americans who cannot afford reliable, high-speed internet at home or on smartphones’, the Washington Post reports. The report adds that Facebook isn’t looking at partnering not just with big carriers like AT&T and Verizon, but is in talks with lesser-known carriers in the country. It is worth noting that in the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not prevent carriers from offering data cap exemptions, and major companies have begun offering zero-rating plans. Also Read - Facebook’s new name could be Meta or Horizon, or will it be called FB?
Despite noble intentions of connecting the world to the internet, Mark Zuckerberg‘s Free Basics initiative has courted controversies since day one. The initiative (initially launched as Internet.org), basically offers subscribers access to certain website and online services for free. But since Facebook is in control of what services are a part of its initiative, this was seen as against net neutrality. The ensuing debate saw partners like Times Group, Cleartrip, Newshunt, and NDTV cut ties with the initiative, and the social giant was also touted as a ‘walled garden’ for only partnering RCom.
To quell the rising tensions, Facebook rebranded Internet.org to Free Basics and opened it up for developers. But with the company still reserving the rights to which apps will make it to the platform, the initiative was again seen as being against net neutrality.
Net neutrality activists widely panned the Free Basics initiative, which consequently resulted in an ugly and expensive war between the two sides. Against all the criticism, Zuckerberg once responded, “People here think we are trying to restrict the access to the whole internet. That is far from the truth. Providing free access to the whole Internet is costly, so we re trying to provide free basic. The activists however maintained that the initiative would end up creating a digital divide between those who access internet via Free Basics and those who have access to the entire internet.
Consequently, the war came to an end when telecom regulator TRAI ruled in favor of the activists, and banned Free Basics in India. After TRAI ruled against Free Basics, a Facebook spokesperson was quoted as saying, Our goal with Free Basics [was] to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform. While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings. ALSO READ: Looking back at the Internet.org controversies
The news of Free Basics being readied for a launch in the US comes amidst recent reports claiming that Facebook hasn’t given up on Free Basics for India, and is in talks with the Indian government to find alternatives. Recent reports also claim that the social giant is planning to soon launch its Express Wifi service in the country. Unlike Free Basics though, the idea here is to offer reliable internet connectivity at affordable prices. The company is collaborating with BSNL, and has recently completed a successful pilot run with 125 public Wi-Fi hotspots offering speeds up to 2Mbps.