Facebook Quietly Backs Away From Its Net Neutrality Killing 'Free Basics' Program Overseas

from the the-AOLification-of-the-internet dept

While Facebook professes to be a net neutrality advocate here in the States, their silence as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have dismantled the open internet has long proven otherwise.

And overseas, Facebook has routinely undermined net neutrality — at times under the banner of altruism. Thinking it could corner the ad market in developing nations, Facebook has been pushing for years something known as “Free Basics” under its Internet.org initiative. Under Free Basics, Facebook delivers users a free, AOL-esque walled garden version of the internet featuring content from Facebook-approved partners. But the program quickly came under fire by content partners who didn’t like Facebook being the curator of what gets viewed. Others criticized the program for at one point banning encrypted content.

Countries like India ultimately wound up banning Free Basics as a violation of net neutrality, viewing the program as little more than glorified collusion — since a cornerstone of the project involved Facebook determining which services users will be able to access. Users in these nations, meanwhile, began conflating “the internet” with Facebook itself, which is what Facebook obviously wanted, but which presented a whole host of new problems.

As Facebook saw heated opposition from Indian net neutrality activists, its response to the PR kerfuffle was pretty terrible. While it was abundantly clear the program held cornering developing ad markets as its primary agenda, Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that net neutrality supporters worried about Facebook’s plans were simply extremists who were hurting the poor. And at one point, the company launched a campaign that attempted to trick Indian citizens into rooting against their own best interests on this subject by spamming the government in opposition to real net neutrality.

Opposition to Facebook’s version of the future has since spread to additional countries, and reports indicate that Facebook is slowly walking away from its Free Basics in a number of developing nations:

“Myanmar is not the only place where Free Basics has quietly ended. The program has been abruptly called off in more than half a dozen nations and territories in the recent months, according to an analysis by The Outline. People in Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of Congo, Anguilla, El Salvador, and Saint Lucia have also lost access to Facebook?s free internet program. Additionally, Facebook was testing Free Basics service in Zimbabwe in mid-2016 in partnership with local telecom operator Telecel. The test program has yet to materialize into a wider roll-out.”

The company continues to expand the program in some areas, but more and more frequently countries aren’t appreciating that Facebook’s effort to “help the poor” involves dramatically reshaping what the “internet” looks like, while putting Facebook in the unappreciated position of gatekeeper of acceptable internet content:

“The most concerning issue with Internet.org has been its unpreparedness to serve and protect the people it is helping come online for the first time. Nikhil Pahwa, a New Delhi-based activist who revolted against the Free Basics program in India, says part of the problem with Internet.org is that it is increasingly becoming a substitute for internet for people in countries such as Myanmar.”

Effectively, Facebook?s Free Basics is shaping the internet experience of users ? i.e., the services they can access, the services they cannot access,? Pahwa told The Outline, adding that this creates a filter bubble for users that influences their worldview. ?You can see problems crop up in nations where Free Basics is operational and Facebook is dominant.”

None of this is to say that Facebook’s broader Internet.org initiative hasn’t done some good work around the world. But as groups like Mozilla have long argued, if Facebook is so damn concerned about connecting poor people to the internet, it can always simply fund efforts to connect poor people to the actual internet.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: facebook

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Facebook Quietly Backs Away From Its Net Neutrality Killing 'Free Basics' Program Overseas”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Ninja (profile) says:

Need to let the dust settle a bit before pushing for more bullshit, no? I do agree with Mike that people are blaming Facebook alone for all the evils in the world when there are much worse known offenders out there that should be receiving heat as well but at the very least let’s hope it becomes an example that dissuades bad practices.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not that I agree with what they’re doing, and not that I don’t think they should be mocked for attempting to get away with it, but this would have been perfectly acceptable in the 1990s. The idea that people used to accept the Internet being curated by their ISP is mind boggling, but literally tens of millions of Americans had no idea AOL wasn’t the Internet for several years.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“this would have been perfectly acceptable in the 1990s”

So would mobile phones the size of bricks only sent calls & texts, cameras that used film you had to wait for other people to develop before you could see the photos and watching los res, panned & scanned movies on tapes that regularly chewed up in your VCR.

Technology moves on, and there’s no reason to force people to use 30 year old paradigms just because other people were happy with that before the new ones existed.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
09:37 British Telecom Wants Netflix To Pay A Tax Simply Because Squid Game Is Popular (32)
04:55 Axios Parrots A Lot Of Dumb, Debunked Nonsense About Net Neutrality (54)
10:50 NY AG Proves Broadband Industry Funded Phony Public Support For Attack On Net Neutrality (10)
06:24 The GOP Is Using Veterans As Props To Demonize Net Neutrality (22)
06:03 Telecom Using Veterans As Props To Demonize California's New Net Neutrality Law (12)
09:32 AT&T Whines That California Net Neutrality Rules Are Forcing It To Behave (11)
06:23 The New York Times (Falsely) Informs Its 7 Million Readers Net Neutrality Is 'Pointless' (51)
15:34 Facebook's Australian News Ban Did Demonstrate The Evil Of Zero Rating (18)
04:58 'Net Neutrality Hurt Internet Infrastructure Investment' Is The Bad Faith Lie That Simply Won't Die (11)
05:48 Dumb New GOP Talking Point: If You Restore Net Neutrality, You HAVE To Kill Section 230. Just Because! (66)
06:31 DOJ Drops Ridiculous Trump-Era Lawsuit Against California For Passing Net Neutrality Rules (13)
06:27 The Wall Street Journal Kisses Big Telecom's Ass In Whiny Screed About 'Big Tech' (13)
10:45 New Interim FCC Boss Jessica Rosenworcel Will Likely Restore Net Neutrality, Just Not Yet (5)
15:30 Small Idaho ISP 'Punishes' Twitter And Facebook's 'Censorship' ... By Blocking Access To Them Entirely (81)
05:29 A Few Reminders Before The Tired Net Neutrality Debate Is Rekindled (13)
06:22 U.S. Broadband Speeds Jumped 90% in 2020. But No, It Had Nothing To Do With Killing Net Neutrality. (12)
12:10 FCC Ignores The Courts, Finalizes Facts-Optional Repeal Of Net Neutrality (19)
10:46 It's Opposite Day At The FCC: Rejects All Its Own Legal Arguments Against Net Neutrality To Claim It Can Be The Internet Speech Police (13)
12:05 Blatant Hypocrite Ajit Pai Decides To Move Forward With Bogus, Unconstitutional Rulemaking On Section 230 (178)
06:49 FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion (25)
06:31 The EU Makes It Clear That 'Zero Rating' Violates Net Neutrality (6)
06:22 DOJ Continues Its Quest To Kill Net Neutrality (And Consumer Protection In General) In California (11)
11:08 Hypocritical AT&T Makes A Mockery Of Itself; Says 230 Should Be Reformed For Real Net Neutrality (28)
06:20 Trump, Big Telecom Continue Quest To Ban States From Protecting Broadband Consumers (19)
06:11 Senators Wyden And Markey Make It Clear AT&T Is Violating Net Neutrality (13)
06:31 Net Neutrali-what? AT&T's New Streaming Service Won't Count Against Its Broadband Caps. But Netflix Will. (25)
06:23 Telecom's Latest Dumb Claim: The Internet Only Works During A Pandemic Because We Killed Net Neutrality (49)
13:36 Ex-FCC Staffer Says FCC Authority Given Up In Net Neutrality Repeal Sure Would Prove Handy In A Crisis (13)
06:27 Clarence Thomas Regrets Brand X Decision That Paved Way For The Net Neutrality Wars (11)
06:17 The FCC To Field More Comments On Net Neutrality. Maybe They'll Stop Identity Theft And Fraud This Time? (79)
More arrow