Facebook Wants To Bring Controversial Zero Rated 'Free Basics' Service To The States

from the we're-helping! dept

Last year the Indian government forged new net neutrality rules that shut down Facebook's "Free Basics" service, which provided a Facebook-curated "light" version of the internet -- for free. And while Facebook consistently claimed its program was simply altruistic, critics (including Facebook content partners) consistently claimed that Facebook's concept gave the company too much power, potentially harmed free speech, undermined the open nature of the Internet, and provided a new, centralized repository of user data for hackers, governments and intelligence agencies.

In short, India joined Japan, The Netherlands, Chile, Norway, and Slovenia in banning zero rating entirely, based on the idea that cap exemption gives some companies and content a leg up, and unfairly distorts the inherently level internet playing field. It doesn't really matter if you're actually altruistic or just pretending to be altruistic (to oh, say, lay a branding foundation to corner the content market in developing countries in 30 years); the practice dramatically shifts access to the internet in a potentially devastating fashion that provides preferential treatment to the biggest carriers and companies.

Fast forward a year and Facebook is now considering bringing the controversial service to the United States. The company has apparently been in talks with the White House about getting the idea rolling in the U.S., without setting off the same kind of regulatory alarm bells it faced in India:
"The effort to offer a U.S.-based version of Free Basics is moving forward in fits and starts, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the effort has not been publicly revealed. In particular, the company wants to ensure that Free Basics will be viewed favorably by the U.S. government before it launches, thus avoiding a costly repeat of its experience in India."
Again, India reacted poorly not because Facebook was giving away "free stuff," but because Facebook was trying to install itself as the 90's AOL of the modern internet. Content partners dropped out because they didn't like Facebook dictating which websites and services get to be "zero rated." Companies like Mozilla suggested that if Facebook really wants to help the world's poor, it can start by funding access to the actual Internet. Facebook, annoyed by those who don't believe it's being purely altruistic, responded by calling such critics "extremists" who are hurting the poor.

The fight comes to US shores as the country is already facing a growing array of problems thanks to zero rating. Whereas India banned the practice, the FCC passed net neutrality rules that don't ban it outright, opening the door to companies trampling net neutrality if they're just creative enough. As a result, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T all now exempt their own streaming content from caps while still penalizing Netflix. Similarly T-Mobile and Sprint have now started throttling video, music and games unless customers pay a steep monthly premium.

So while the FCC twiddles its thumbs to what's quickly becoming a growing problem (unless you're an ISP or a deep-pocketed content company), Facebook is looking to get in on the ground floor of a concept that professes to be "helping" while dramatically changing the way access to the internet works. Amusingly, the social media giant appears to be treading so carefully, it's refusing to strike deals with big carriers out of an obvious fear of anti-competitive criticism:
"Facebook has not attempted to strike a deal with national wireless carriers such as T-Mobile or AT&T, said the people familiar with the matter, over concerns that regulators may perceive the move as anti-competitive. Instead, it has pursued relationships with lesser-known carriers."
Again, if you want to help low-income global citizens access to the internet -- doesn't it just make more sense to help fund connections to the actual internet?

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  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 7:26am

    Faux-lanthropy

    It's a complicated topic and difficult to refuse legitimate philanthropy. If we really can't just deliver all the Internet, I think we should run the program similarly to the public library model. Certain free resources are available to the people in this area, and the available content is managed by independent local curators to meet the needs and desires of their population. If Facebook wants to make a donation to the library that's fine, but they don't get to pick which books their money buys.

    Disclosure: I was pissed when SpaceX's Falcon 9 exploded on the launchpad, but the fact that Facebook's satellite was destroyed as well almost makes up for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:41am

    If this service is started, it gives back-door censorship to the information and organizations that are available to the poorest citizens of the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JBDragon (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 12:26pm

      Re:

      That might be true, but then it's better then nothing at all!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 1:15pm

        Re: Re:

        More likely it will be worse than nothing, as without the service they might organize something better for themselves, or go out and find information and organizations by themselves. With such a service it is easier to keep them in a state of hopelessness.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 3:22pm

      Innovation! (FCC style)

      Zero rating is unfortunately what the FCC has declared to be "innovation". The FCC talking about innovation is turning out to be like Jeffery Dahmer talking about gourmet cooking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NoToFaceConnect, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:44am

    Walled Garden with Thorns

    No, just no to anything Facebook and connectivity.

    It's bad enough that we have duopolies that cap and throttle our bandwidth, Facebook would simply block anything Not Facebook.

    No!

    In a better world, NO ISP would have both connectivity and content. You're either a media provider or a connection, the two must be separate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:51am

    Yet another reason why Facebook is ...

    I always have an over-the-top-roll-of-the-eyes anytime Facebook is mentioned.

    I took my suit the a dry cleaners that is close by house and asked they ever have discounts etc. The girl mentioned that do and it is on their website. When I asked what the website was she said "Facebook".

    :/

    I took my kids to a "dollar" theater and one of the pre-show ads was some stupid clip about Facebook and a drone that the launched. While the clip was playing I amused myself by thinking about different ways someone with resources and the desire could attack it whilst in flight.

    Facebook is evil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 8:59am

    Again, if you want to help low-income global citizens access to the internet -- doesn't it just make more sense to help fund connections to the actual internet?


    What if all they want to do is help low-income people use Facebook? Are the poor better off with no connection or a limited connection? Isn't this a case of perfect being the enemy of good?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:35am

      Re:

      Are the poor better off with no connection or a limited connection?

      The former.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 11:51am

      Re:

      Keep in mind, it's not just "the poor." Many people who would take advantage of this would be university students - and they're the ones who we LEAST want to be kept in a walled garden online.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 12:04pm

        Re: Re:

        Then maybe you should support the program. If university students have to choose between Facebook or some other sites, then having Facebook zero-rated eliminates that tension. They are can spend their bandwidth budget other places.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JBDragon (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 12:29pm

        Re: Re:

        Most of these University's act like a walled garden!!! They want nothing buy their leftest views and will go bat sh*t crazy if someone without their views want to talk at their school and generally driving the person away. There sure are not open to different views these days. The radical left has taken over. So Walled garden. Really, should fit right in with Facebook anyway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 1:20pm

      Re:

      Helping the poor by connecting them to Facebook, where they can be bombarded with manipulative targeted advertisements for products they don't need and can't afford.

      Yeah, no.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 1:30pm

        Re: Re:

        You understand that they could still choose to not use Facebook, right?

        These people are short on money, not brains.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 1:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Having brains is of little use if they are starved of knowledge and information, but hey, Facebook would at least provide bread and circuses to relieve the boredom

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 2:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Good lord, people around here have pretty low opinions of the poor people in their communities.

            In the US, even poor people are mostly on Facebook (except for the elderly). What they often don't have is an unlimited data plan.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 3:02pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Wrong, I have a low opinion of much of what is on Facebook, at least as a primary source of knowledge, and an even lower opinion of what Zuckerberg considers to be suitable material for he masses to consume.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:04am

    Always keep in mind...

    ...that Mark Zuckerberg is a sociopath who will do anything for money. Remembering this makes it much easier to understand Facebook's business strategy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:19am

    Wasn't this the plot of The Kingsmen?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Oct 2016 @ 9:34am

    Free Basics or

    Free Basers. Get 'em hooked, baby!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2016 @ 12:32am

    Truth be told, if Facebook is paying for the service from its own pockets, as much as I dislike it, they kind of have the right to dictate what can or can't be accessed through the service.

    Now if this is closer to a public service, paid with tax money, and Facebook is only a contributor, then the situation changes and really should provide access to the wider internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2016 @ 3:49am

      Re:

      Sure, their 'game' their rules, but they don't get to pretend that they're doing it to be altruistic or just out of the goodness of their hearts and not expect to get called out on it.

      Facebook is trying to do this because it benefits Facebook by putting themselves in the position of curator of what people can access and in the position of gatekeeper, if they were honest and admitted this then the backlash wouldn't be as bad, a large part of the objection is the frankly laughable assertion that they're doing this because they just care so very much for the poor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rana, 13 Oct 2016 @ 6:38am

        Re: Re:

        ... a large part of the objection is the frankly laughable assertion that they're doing this because they just care so very much for the poor.

        Didn't Mark Zuckerberg vow to donate 99% of his Facebook shares to charity? Of course, his favorite charity just so happens to be himself. I guess it depends on how you define things like "charity" and "poor". As in "poor little rich boy".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Praveen, 17 Oct 2016 @ 1:23am

    Top Restaurants In World

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John, 17 Oct 2016 @ 1:26am

    It is really a great idea. Keep going..!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nogentech (profile), 23 Mar 2017 @ 2:15am

    Tech Blog

    Helping the poor by associating them to Facebook, where they can be barraged with manipulative focused on promotions for items they don't require and can't manage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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