I don’t know how long I have being waiting for Internet.org’s Free Basics to hit the shores of this country. Today, I can shout to high heavens that Free Basics is live in Nigeria! Yes, we have now joined about 40 countries, most of them in Africa, now enjoying the free Internet service courtesy of Facebook’s internet.org’s Free Basics.
The good news was made known today by the man himself, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook which provides the service. Making the announcement through his Facebook page, he said,
”Today we’re partnering with Airtel Africa to launch Internet.org Free Basics in Nigeria.
There’s a lot of innovation across Africa right now, and Nigeria in particular is home to a lot of talented developers.
Free Basics offers Nigerians, including 90 million people who are currently offline, the opportunity to access news, health information and services like Jobberman that were built by Nigerians and other developers across West Africa — all without having to pay for data.
Free Basics is now live in more than 40 countries, and half of those are in Africa. Over the next few months, we’ll be doing even more to connect developers with people who can use their apps — and partner with local companies to bring internet to people across Africa who don’t have access to mobile networks.
In the meantime, I’m excited to see what Nigerians build next.”
Facebook internet.org’s Free Basics is one of Zuckerberg’s initiative to bridge the internet access divide between the poor and the rich. Or between rich countries and poor countries. Working with local service providers, users who sign up to the program download the Free Basics app to their phones. Bundled in the App are websites that are part of the program. Since it is a Facebook initiative, it is natural that one of the free sites on the app is Facebook. Accessing Facebook and other websites through the app would incur zero charges on ones mobile data. However, trying to open any website not on the app would be charged normal data rates of the network provider. Even if the app is running in the background.
Since the introduction of Internet.org’s Free Basics, it had encountered hiccups in mostly two countries so far. The most notorious is the suspension of the service in India. According to the Indian authorities, internet.org’s Free Basics violated the cardinal principle of net neutrality. Net neutrality implies that all Internet traffic should be treated the same. Basically, there should be zero discrimination in how traffic is priced. But Free Basics goes against that principle because it offers only selected websites for free. Thereby discriminating against Websites not part of the program. And ultimately forcing these websites to offer their services for free or else nobody would visit their sites again leading to revenue loss.
Another place where Internet.org’s Free Basics suffered a serious setback was Egypt. The government decided not to renew the provisional license granted the local service provider, Etisalat. It turned out the refusal to renew the license was because Facebook refused to provide the user data of users of Free Basics to the Government of Egypt. Facebook cited privacy protection as a core principle of using the service. While the government felt it needed the data to better secure the country against perceived troublemakers who may use the app to ferment trouble.
Back to our own free basics. I opened Google Play store on my phone. But a search of Free Basics revealed nothing. So I just searched for the apk file from another source and got it here. Installing and opening it for the first time was very easy. There are about 25 sites that one can accessed for free. These include Wikipedia, Wikihow, Supersport, Nairaland, OLX, BBC, goal.com and Bing. Unfortunately, the Facebook site is not free for now on the app. Tapping it would redirect you to your browser or Facebook app. A pop up window might also appear showing you how much data costs on Airtel network. The same thing happened with Facebook Messenger tap on the Free Basics app.
These are early days though. I guess with time, Nigeria’s internet.org’s Free Basics would get better and completely free. As it is now, you can browse other sites as much as you like. More updates would be coming in the coming days as the news unfolds.
photo credit: quora.com; trak.in