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Free basics (Facebook) – All you need to know!

“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Give him access to a handful of websites, and he’ll pull himself out of poverty”

Facebook launched Internet.org, an initiative which would offer free internet services in 37 countries to begin with, in 2013. Three years and one re-brand on, the platform now called “Free Basics” has attracted over 1.5 Cr users across the globe as well as a whole bunch of criticism, most recently from India.

Free basics – In a nut shell

It is built to act as an open platform that gives all web developers the opportunity to make their services and websites available free of cost to those who cannot afford an internet connection. This helps bridge the ___GAP between service providers and those who would plausibly benefit from using these internet services. This free access, however, is limited to websites and applications, which are in partnership with Facebook only.

A few of the free basics services available in India are:
Facebook (quite obviously), Career Jagran Josh, Facts for Life (Unicef), wikiHow, Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, ESPN Cricinfo, Aaj Tak, BBC News, IBN Live, Daily Bhaskar, BabaJob, OLX, Nike Foundation (Girl Effect) and UN Women (iLearn)

What’s the problem, then? It sounds like a good initiative right?

Yes, definitely. But the problem is that, contrary to what it claims, it doesn’t offer equal and unbiased access to all internet services. Facebook is partnering with internet service providers, to provide preferential and selective access to a certain set of apps and services. This is the main criticism of those opposed to Free Basics. People are arguing that the internet should be free and equal for all users. This is also the center stone of net neutrality.

What’s net neutrality?

Net neutrality means access to free and unbiased internet for all. To put it in simple terms, anyone from anywhere around the world should be able to access or provide services and content on the internet without any discrimination.

Is Free Basics already available in India, too?

Facebook launched the initiative in India in February 2015, by partnering with Reliance Communications. RCom offers the Free Basics service under a ‘Freenet’ button on mobile phones. It started with free access to select 33 websites across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa. This was subsequently increased to 80 websites.

What is the telecom regulator’s role in all this?

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked Reliance communication to suspend its Free Basics service. A couple of weeks earlier, the TRAI had issued a consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, where it had asked if telecom operators should be allowed to have different pricing for accessing different websites, applications and platforms. TRAI said some service providers were offering differential data tariff with free or discounted tariffs to certain contents of certain websites, applications or platforms. TRAI had invited comments till 31st December 2015 to peep into what consumers had to say about free basics and net neutrality as a whole.

To sum up…

Free basics is an open platform and any app developer can include their services on it. Also, Facebook has changed the nature of privacy settings, too. However, it is still selective in nature. Perhaps a few minor tweaks on how the entire thing works (to satisfy the net neutrality supporters) might let free basics see the light at the end of the tunnel, because Facebook really seems to be pushing it hard.

Let us know what you think about Free basics and we will make your comments and your opinions heard too!

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