Facebook Hopes to Roll Out 'Free Basics' Service in the U.S.

After its controversial "free Internet" program was shut down in India, the social giant hopes to leverage its position in the tech community to offer rural U.S. residents some form of connection.

by / October 10, 2016
President Barack Obama with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Dr. John L. Hennessy (left), President of Stanford University and other panelists before the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University, Calif., June 24, 2016. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Earlier this year, a downtrodden Mark Zuckerberg suffered a regulatory defeat in India when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in February banned Facebook’s Free Basics program, claiming it violated net neutrality.

In a message on Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote that though saddened by the decision, he remains “committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.”

But around the world may be closer than he first thought.

According to a recent report, Zuckerberg and the rest of the folks at Facebook are looking for White House officials to get on board with the program. Free Basics is a mobile app that allows users to visit Facebook, Wikipedia and other sites without getting charged for data use.

By eliminating extra charges, the company asserts that it would help poor residents in rural regions of the country, connecting them with sites to apply for jobs and the ability to stay in touch with loved ones. Critics charge that the platform is too restrictive and hurts completion.

Facebook has reportedly been talking to small, regional carriers about offering Free Basics in the U.S., not to large telecoms like T-Mobile or AT&T.

A factor that could tilt the ruling in Facebook’s favor is the decision to open the platform to third-party developers. Any new apps on the platform, however, would be required to use low amounts of data by, for example, prohibiting the use of high-definition images or video that could consume a great deal of mobile data.