You may not know this, but Facebook has an app called Free Basics. It essentially allows users to access certain websites for free such as Facebook, job listings, and medical websites. It’s already available through carriers in more than 40 countries, and quite recently, it got Facebook into a bit of trouble with the Indian government. Well, according to The Washington Post, Facebook is working with several local carriers to potentially bring Free Basics to the US.
The goal of Free Basics is quite simple: the social network giant wants to bring affordable and readily-accessible Internet to people in rural areas and developing countries. In fact, it all started with Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative: similar to Google’s Project Loon, it’s a partnership between a handful of companies like Samsung and Qualcomm that seeks to provide inexpensive web access around the world.
The goal of the app may be simple, but regulations around it are a bit, well, complicated. Take a look at India for instance. After five months since the launch, the Indian telecom regulatory body ruled that Free Basics had violated the tenets of net neutrality, a practice known as “zero rating.” This basically means that Facebook had an unfair advantage by offering a free Internet service through carriers.
The drama in India may have taught Facebook a thing or two. The company is apparently in the process of talking to White House officials about how to launch Free Basics in the US without having to involve regulatory authorities. It seems like if things go well for Facebook, its free Internet app would primarily target rural areas:
The US version of Free Basics would target low-income and rural Americans who cannot afford reliable, high-speed Internet at home or on smartphones.
Needless to say, the big four carriers in the US are not likely to be too happy about Facebook’s new app, which explains why Facebook has been in talks with small, regional carriers instead. Nothing is confirmed by the company, so we will have to see whether its plans pan out, but if regulators are not too quick to deem it anti-competitive, I think Free Basics may bring huge benefits for Americans in remote areas.
Facebook is apparently in the process of talking to White House officials about how to launch Free Basics in the US without having to involve regulatory authorities.
What are your thoughts about Facebook’s Free Basics app? Let us know by leaving a comment below!