Continuing with the concept that ‘There is nothing free, some external costs are always attached to it’ we now analyze what’s been in discussion for a long time- Free Basics by Facebook. So, in February 2015 Facebook renamed its project Internet.org to ‘Free Basics’.
What is free basics ?
Free basics aims to provide a basic internet service to all the people residing in India including those living in underdeveloped regions. Sounds good ? Now, here’s the twist. This access will be limited to the websites who are/will partner with Facebook.
It might seem fair while reading about it for the first time, but if you delve a little deeper then you can see through its shortcomings. Free basics implies providing free basic internet to everyone, but Facebook is giving preference to those websites who will partner with them. This practice can become an excuse to block certain traffic streams, content or expression, to give preference to others, or to impede competition. With this policy, Facebook is encouraging everyone to partner with them so as to support this initiative.
Now what’s wrong in the fact that everybody partners with Facebook and help to increase the reach of internet ?
This will make Facebook a monopoly power in India, people will start perceiving Facebook as another name for internet. People are led to believe the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is finding a solution for their problems. Well, thanks to him for bringing this problem to our notice. But, he is not the one whom we can hand over this issue. This is something which the regulators of our country are responsible for. What he is doing is nothing but privatization of public services on a large basis. The advocates of free basics says that it will provide all services from education to health, without telling us how will they create more doctors or teachers because internet cannot produce them certainly. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, this is like “let the people have cake instead of bread”.
As soon as Facebook will partner with organisations willing to be a part of this campaign, they will have access to all the data which these organisations are having and many of us don’t know but Facebook makes a lot of money via such databases.
Analyzing the issue, this problem has been lingering in India for a long time. The main issue is the fact that data packs are way too expensive in India as compared to other countries which needs to be brought down. The solution is to provide data packs at a reasonable cost to everyone, if not free.
The Hindu writes “ The danger of privileging a private platform such as Free Basics over a public Internet is that it introduces a new kind of digital divide among the people. As Morozov writes, the digital divide today is “about those who can afford not to be stuck in the data clutches of Silicon Valley — counting on public money or their own capital to pay for connectivity — and those who are too poor to resist the tempting offers of Google and Facebook” . As he points out, the basic delusion Silicon Valley is nurturing is that the power divide will be bridged through Internet connectivity, no matter who provides it or in what form. This is not likely to happen through their platforms.”
Internet is the new name for trading. And like the past, Silicon Valley’s “Free Basics” campaign is a new type of colonialism we are facing. Please refrain from supporting any such campaign.
Concluding the above, free basics is actually not free. And, what’s the cost ? Our economy.