Free Basics from Facebook didn’t work in India because of net neutrality issues. People thought if they accessed the Internet through Facebook’s Free Basics they won’t be able to visit other websites. The argument in the favour of Free Basics was that there will be at least some level of Internet connectivity available to people, free, at places where there is zero Internet connectivity. The opponents then said why should Facebook decide that people with no Internet connectivity will appreciate restricted Internet connectivity? And so on. As a result, Facebook had to pack its bags as far as Free Basics goes and the issue has been long forgotten. Free Basics was banned in India by the government.
Now Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring Free Basics to America. But this time he wants to make sure that the service is not derailed by legalities and other confusion, so he has been closely working with the American government for many months. Facebook wants to bring Free Basics to “low income and rural Americans” who can’t afford broadband Internet either at home or through a smartphone, according to this Washington Post report.
The sort of free Internet that Facebook wants to provide to American citizens will be slightly different from what it was trying to provide to Indian citizens. Instead of providing free Internet browsing, the Free Basics will stretch people’s data plans by offering certain websites and services free of cost. For example, if you use Facebook and Facebook Messenger through the Free Basics app, you won’t be using your mobile data. Facebook will be partnering with wireless carriers to provide these free services to the Free Basics users in America. So in order to be able to use Free Basics from Facebook, in America, you already need to have a data plan. It’s not like one minute you don’t have access to the Internet, and then Free Basics comes and you have access to the Internet. You already need to have access to the Internet. When you start using the Free Basics app there are certain websites that wouldn’t consume your mobile data bandwidth.
The same problem that Facebook faced in India it may also face in the US. When Facebook was trying to launch Free Basics in India the moot contention was that only those websites and apps that were collaborating with Facebook will be available to the Free Basics users. This will give these websites and apps an unfair advantage over other websites and apps that don’t partner with Facebook. A larger issue with Free Basics was that people who would use the service for the first time would think that Internet meant just those websites that could be accessed through Free Basics.
For the US audience, Facebook has changed how Free Basics will handle websites and apps not directly collaborating with Facebook. These websites and apps will be available, but they won’t be able to use high definition videos and images so that great amount of mobile data is not used. It’s like, you might be able to access text-intensive news websites but you won’t be able to enjoy Netflix using a Free Basics app.
After being banned in India, will Free Basics work in the US? Remains to be seen.