When looking at Free Basics through a net neutrality lens, it is important to remember the goal of Free Basics is to introduce people to the value of the internet through free basics services beyond Facebook. It is not intended to be the whole internet, but it is open to any developer who wants to bring their internet service onto the platform.
Why is this important? Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. But even more people can afford the internet but don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives.
When people have access to free basic internet services, they quickly move onto the full internet. We’ve found this to be true across the world — by providing people with access to free basic services, new users are coming onto mobile networks, on an average over 50 per cent faster, and more than half of the people who come online are paying for data and accessing the internet within the first 30 days. In India, of the people who started their online journey with Free Basics, after the first 30 days, there are 8 times more people who have paid for and are using the full internet than those who have chosen to continue only using Free Basics.
So the data is clear. Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality.
If we accept that everyone deserves access to the internet, then we must surely support free basic internet services as one of many models that can bring more people online. That’s why more than 30 countries have recognised Free Basics as a program consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers.
Some people have asked us why we don’t focus on other connectivity models. We’ve tried many, but we haven’t found a model that works as well as Free Basics to bring people online.
Some have questioned Facebook’s motives. Our motive is clear – we are offering Free Basics to bring more people online to the entire internet. We’re open to feedback and have incorporated many valid points of feedback for the program this year. We’re also open to third party scrutiny of our practices for the program.
If you take away the ability for operators to provide free access, you risk setting a perfectly level playing field for the minority who are already online, and putting full access to the internet out of reach for the vast majority of the world that isn’t online by never providing them an opportunity to try the internet risk-free. If we limit the ways that the unconnected can come online, we will slow the growth of the internet which is bad for unconnected people and the entire internet ecosystem.
Free Basics is an open platform that allows developers to make their services available for users. It was unveiled 2 years ago in partnership with Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm.
Facebook has partnered with internet service providers to offer selective access to a set of app developers and services. It founder-cum-CEO Mark Zuckerberg stands firm that zero-rating is not against net neutrality.
(The writer is V-P, Internet.org)