Who pays for Facebook's free internet?

It's complicated.
Motorists ride past a billboard displaying Facebook's Free Basics initiative in Mumbai, India. India has become a battleground over the right to unrestricted internet access, with local tech start-ups joining the front line against Facebook's plan to roll out free internet to the country's masses. The Indian government has ordered Facebook's Free Basics plan on hold while it decides what to do. (REUTERS)

Over the last couple of years, Facebook has been trying to create a system of free internet access, especially for developing countries that don't have widespread access. Originally publicized under the name, the system would give you basic access to Facebook and a few other selected websites and resources, while the phone service providers would absorb the cost. The latest iteration of the program is the Free Basics app.

But now, several countries where this app has been launched, are pushing back against the program. India and Egypt have even suspended it. Some critics argue that the program violates the principles of net neutrality, and incentivizes people to use Facebook and their preferred, selected services, over competitors. This is because, while the services available through Free Basics will be free, users will have to pay for access to any other competing app, site or service.

Map showing countries with access to Facebook's Free Basics. (Reuters)

Leo Mirani is the News Editor at The Economist, and has covered Free Basics and Mirani says that the reason that India has become a battleground for Facebook is that India has a well-educated middle class that is tapped into the the discussion over net neutrality in Europe and North America.

Mirani also says that much of the pushback is a result of Facebook misrepresenting their efforts in India as altruistic and charitable, rather than part of their business interests. He notes that the services originally included with Free Basics, things like job boards and maternal health information were, "...the sort of things that people in the rich world think people in the poor world should have... it's slightly patronizing, frankly."


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