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Free Internet? Facebook is in talks to bring its Free Basics app to the USA

The Washington Post reports that Facebook has been talking to the U.S. Government in a bid to bring its Free Basics app in America. Available in developing countries, Free Basics provides free access to essential websites and online social services without counting traffic against users' data plans. In other words, this is free internet, and while deploying it could be beneficial for users who can't afford cellular data, it also presents certain regulatory challenges.

According to the report, the U.S. version of Free Basics will target low-income and rural Americans who cannot afford high-speed Internet at home or on smartphones. It will offer free Internet access to content such as online news, health information, and job listings, with the cellular data supplied by Facebook in partnership with wireless carriers. Reportedly, Facebook has been trying to partner up with numerous small and rural wireless carriers to support Free Basics and waive data charges incurred by the app. However, there are possible controversies involved.

For example, Indian regulators banned the app in February, as consumer advocates argued that Facebook is hand-picking the services accessed via Free Basics, which potentially puts competitors and nonprofit groups left out of the program at a disadvantage. Moreover, exempting services from data caps favors business with the resources to participate in the program, which creates an unequal ground for companies.

Facebook has a resolution for such problems, though. It lets any organization offer its services via Free Basics, as long as the content served by them doesn't include high-definition images and video, which consumes greater amounts of mobile data. The company is also eschewing talks with the national wireless carriers in the USA, as it's concerned that regulators might perceive them as anti-competitive. Rather, Facebook is pursuing partnerships with smaller service providers.

The social network believes that carriers have an incentive to participate, as Free Basics users can be converted to paying customers. Facebook says that half of those who get online for the first time via Free Basics end up subscribing for a data plan within 30 days of use. The app is currently available in 49 countries. Bringing Free Basics to the U.S. will be beneficial, but the diplomacy involved in establishing the service will likely prolong the time we'll have to wait before it becomes available – if it does at all.

source: Washington Post


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