Facebook in partnership with Airtel, have launched Internet.org Free Basics, a free internet browsing app in Nigeria.
Free Basics is an initiative by Facebook and several other partner companies to deliver zero-rated internet services to the 4 billion-odd people still offline. Facebook reaches out to local telcos and get them to zero-rate certain sites and services that meet Facebook’s criteria.
Accoding to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO:
“Free Basics offers Nigerians, including 90 million people who are currently offline, the opportunity to access news, health information and services like Jobberman that were built by Nigerians and other developers across West Africa — all without having to pay for data.”
Airtel Africa CEO, Christian de Faria about the partnership stated:
“We’re pleased to take this big step forward in our partnership with Facebook, bringing more people online in Africa’s most populous country and helping to further narrow the digital divide,” said
Critics, some of whom have organized under the banner of “savetheinternet. in” say that the internet.org offers neither the entire internet, nor is it a charitable organization, for which .org domain names are usually used. Facebook responded by changing the name of the service in 2015 to “Free Basics”.
Moreover, the critics argue that if Indians and other poor-world internet internet users spend the vast majority of their time within Facebook’s walled garden, that would force other businesses to set up shop on Facebook rather than on their own websites or elsewhere on the internet. This would give Facebook enormous power over competitors and indeed over the internet.
There is some evidence to show their fears are not unfounded: a survey last year found that millions of Facebook users in the poor world don’t realize they are actually using the internet. Facebook’s critics succeeded in getting Facebook to open up access to Free Basics. The new regime allows any business, including competitors, apply to join if they meet certain technical requirements.