Free Basics is a part of the Internet.org initiative by Facebook to provide free access to basic internet services to a billion people all over the world. So far, it has made apps like AccuWeather, BBC News, UNICEF and (of course) Facebook and Messenger and a few others, available for FREE to users of certain Internet Service Providers. The idea behind the program is that everyone deserves access to basic internet services, that internet is no longer an item of luxury, it is a necessity.
Taking in terms of how it affects the Economy, it is known that greater access to communication has a positive correlation with economic growth. Free Basics would provide the poor people (those who cannot afford to pay for internet services otherwise) free access to the basic apps for communication, weather, news and health, enabling the poor too, to have access to same level of education, treatment and preparedness, without burning a hole in their pockets. Availability of Free Basics will lead to creation of more jobs, as anyone who meets the technical specifications laid out by Internet.org, can participate in the program. More jobs means more income, more consumption, more production and a rise in GDP.
Why are the Internet Service Providers on board with this, you ask? When an ISP ties up with Facebook and gives you Free Basics, people are automatically drawn to that ISP to run certain apps for free. However, not all apps run on free basics. So, the consumer opts for an additional internet pack or a data pack, as it is popularly known, in order to run those apps. Moreover, the ISP is also their telecommunication service provider and charges them for the calls they make and the texts they send too. Thus, by making one part of internet usage free, the ISP gains a lot in terms of an increased number of subscribers using the telecommunication services and internet services other than Free Basics.
Now, one might also wonder, what benefits does Facebook reap out of this arrangement. Well, Facebook generates no direct revenue from Free Basics since that version of Facebook is free from ads and Facebook claims that Free Basics is just a program to connect India and the rest of the world. However, the same thing was said about Instagram and now it is full of advertisements. Also, by non-inclusion of apps like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp etc., Facebook will cause a surge in it’s consumer base. When that happens, Facebook is bound to make some big bucks!
The concept of Free Basics is against that of Net Neutrality.
Before you go ahead and sign the petition to SAVE this menace, ask yourself,
Can it be said with certainty that ISPs and Facebook won’t misuse the popularity they receive through this program?
What is more important- Net Neutrality (equal access to all content) or Free Basics (access to limited internet for all)?
Can someone guarantee that giving up Net Neutrality here will not form precedence for future projects that try to hinder access to all internet?
(And the question that has me haunted)
Will the benefits of this program even reach the poor, the target, in a country like ours?
Take a minute to weigh the pros and cons of Free Basics being made available, then decide whether you want to vote in favour of it or stand against it.