Facebook planning Free Basics for US, will probably ignite debate

While we’d all probably like to give everyone access to free Internet, it really isn’t as easy as just opening up the lines and not charging people for it. For one, of course it is a business and someone would have to pay for all that data and tech. Facebook wants to bring connectivity to a lot of people, especially in areas where the Internet is hard to get hold off, either because it is too slow or due to income issues. But not everyone is pleased with a move like this, since it involves what they say are unfair competition practices.

Free Basics is a program that Facebook has successfully launched in 49 other countries, but has also encountered some controversies, with India in particular. They were forced to pull the app out of the country due to some regulatory issues. What they do is approach wireless carriers for partnerships so that the users will not have to pay for their mobile data when they’re connected to the sites and apps that are part of the program. These include online news, health information, job news, etc, all of which should add something to the quality of living of those who cannot afford reliable, high-speed Internet.

What some object to with that program is that exempting some services from a data cap actually creates an “uneven playing field” as only those big businesses that can afford to participate in it will benefit from such a move, which is called “zero rating”. This is an issue particularly in countries where start-ups have to compete with already globally-established firms. In India, they banned Free Basics because Facebook was choosing the services that users can see and use in the app. They have since fixed that issue, letting any 3rd-party organization participate as long as they abide by the rules, which includes no hi-def images or videos.

Facebook doesn’t want a repeat of the India situation, so they are making sure that all issues are already settled with the US regulatory commissions before actually rolling out anything. They have reportedly gotten in touch with White House officials who have influence on the President’s technology agenda. But several Internet advocates would like the FCC to address regulating zero-rating under its net neutrality rule first even as some welcome the idea of Free Basics as a way to close the Internet divide in the country.

VIA: Washington Post