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October 10, 2016

Facebook Looking to Expand US Internet Connectivity

Facebook has reportedly been in talks with the U.S. government for months to launch a new app that would greatly expand Internet connectivity in the United States. This app, called Free Basics, would allow many more people in poorer, more rural areas access to the Internet. It is targeted at people living in these areas who cannot afford a traditional wireless broadband connection.

Frees Basics would partner with cellular data providers to provide exceptions to rules about data use. There is a precedent for this, as T-Mobile has begun offering unlimited data only while streaming music and video. Free Basics would similarly allow users unlimited data when browsing online news websites, healthcare provider sites, and job search sites (only when accessed through the app).

While the principle of this idea is widely accepted as a good thing, this exempting approach when it comes to data brings with it some significant controversy. Opponents of this model argue that it could give some news providers or businesses an unfair advantage, as some could have the capacity to forge these partnerships while others would not. In addition, there is a huge potential for conflict of interest, as data providers could be extremely selective when deciding whose services to exempt from data use. For these reasons, a similar initiative by Facebook ran into significant road blocks from the Indian government last year.

As of right now, the Free Basics project is still in the preliminary stages. Facebook has not yet begun any negotiations with U.S. data providers to provide this service, and the company has not issued any official statement about the project. It seems that any such effort from Facebook is at least a few years away. However, it will be an interesting discussion to keep an eye on, as the result could change the face of Internet provision while also expanding Internet connectivity in America.  

Edited by Alicia Young

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