Free Basics

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So many things are going awry for Facebook at the moment. If they are not fighting one litigation from disgruntle shareholders, they are busy trying to calm the nerves of Europeans who are of the opinion their private data should remain private, or they are trying to explain to a skeptical public why their services are as good as they are advertised. The latest setback for Facebook is in Egypt.

Free Basics

Just over three weeks ago, telecoms regulators in India suspended further implementation of Facebook’s free Internet initiative known as Free Basics, which aims to provide limited Internet access to disenfranchised citizens for free. According to Indian officials, the suspension of the service was to articulate the concerns of other Internet service providers and businesses who depend on the Internet for survival. This followed massive criticisms from some concerned citizens about the Free internet service.

Free Basics
Internet.org’s VP, Chris Daniels announcing Free Basic photo: indian express.com

And just two weeks ago, the same fate (sort of) befell Free Basics in Egypt. But in the case of Egypt, the suspension of the service was not as a result of protests from the public or criticisms from  internet businesses or websites feeling squeezed out by Facebook. According to an official from the Telecommunications Ministry, who wished to remain unnamed, the license to provide the service was only given for an initial period of two months. The two months expired two weeks ago and hence the stoppage of the service.

Apparently, Etisalat, the mobile telecoms carrier providing the service on behalf of Facebook, sought for a renewal and therefore an extension of the service but were denied it by the government ministry. Etisalat is yet to release a statement explaining how things went down.

The question this action by the government immediately elicited is ‘why?’ Why stop a free service to the people? Why stop a service that does not cost the government a dollar? Why stop something that informs and educates the masses?

But the Government regulator was quick to allay the fears of the general public that the action had anything to do with security concerns about the use Free Basics. It would be recalled that social media websites like Facebook played a big role in the 2011 uprising that toppled the government of Hosni Mubarak.

Free Basics
photo:networkedindia.com

What about Facebook? How would they react to this latest setback? Over the past few years, Facebook has dedicated a lot of resources into the provision of Free or cheaper Internet services around the world. The most famous involves Facebook using unmanned aviation vehicles ( a sort of huge drones), to help in delivering cheaper Internet around the world. This very sophisticated program would also involve local ISPs in location where the drones are deployed.

Facebook also took the fight of providing cheaper Internet to the highest level when it led a delegation to the United Nations to argue its case. Would all these setbacks be a dampener to all their initiatives? One hopes not. Because no matter the issues involved, the poorest of the the poor need people like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to help bridge the technology gap between the rich and the poor.

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