Internet.org, Facebook’s initiative to provide free Internet services in developing countries, is now available to all Indians through the Free Basics app on Reliance Communication’s network. The project is meant to give people in emerging economies easy access to the Internet, but has been hit by a slew of criticism.
Reliance Communications is India’s fourth-largest telecom operator, with about 110 million subscribers as of June. According to its site, Free Basics will enable users to use Facebook and Facebook Messenger and access sites like Wikipedia, BBC News, Bing Search, Dictionary.com, and local news services.
Detractors say that by making a handful of services available on its platform, Internet.org gives preferential treatment to its partners, therefore violating the tenets of net neutrality.
In response, Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said Internet.org will focus on offering basic services for free (hence the branding of its app) and is not meant to limit access to other providers. The company has also taken steps to make joining Free Basics easier to join for developers and other potential partners.
This has done little to ameliorate critics who are concerned about the potential drawbacks of having a company as large and powerful as Facebook control what millions of new Internet users see.
In addition to India, Free Basics is available in 30 countries throughout Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America.