So if you’ve read my previous post, you’re now aware of the definition and the problem known as the Digital Divide – a whole lot of people in the world have limited or no access to the internet. This is a problem because we’re living in the digital age – an ‘information economy’. Not having access to the wealth of information the internet offers is a very basic and real inequality. And as I introduced in part one, Mark Zuckerberg has proposed a solution: Facebook’s ‘internet.org’ – a.k.a Free Basics by Facebook. While this initiative sounds promising, altruistic and idealistic, it’s incredibly important to deconstruct it and evaluate both it’s strengths and weaknesses.
The biggest argument in favour of internet.org is that at a very basic level, it appears to be a solution to one of the world’s biggest inequalities. As Wired puts it, “Zuckerberg believes peer-to-peer communications will be responsible for redistributing global power, making it possible for any individual to access and share information. People could tap into government services, determine crop prices, get health care. A kid in India—Zuckerberg loves this hypothetical about a kid in India—could potentially go online and learn all of math.” From an idealist perspective, this sounds incredible. Zuckerberg acknowledges global inequalities and is proposing a real, tangible solution to the problem. After all, if we want something done, why wouldn’t we trust in one of the world’s wealthiest and powerful entrepreneurs to get the job done?
Well, here’s a healthy dose of skepticism to argue against that idealistic point of view.
Mike Elgan proposes that internet.org is “nothing more than a customer-acquisition initiative” for both Facebook and it’s partners (such as mobile carriers that have signed up to offer the free service to it’s customers) and that “many of the Free Basics users were already on the internet before they started using the service” and that they are simply using it just to reduce their data bills.
Elgan goes as far to propose that internet.org (or Free Basics, whatever you want to call it) isn’t even offering what it advertises – that it’s not providing actual internet access at all – “When users choose Free Basics, the carrier unplugs them from the Internet and plugs them directly into Facebook’s servers, a walled garden that provides the equivalent of stripped down sites, but is not the Internet”.
Another huge criticism internet.org has faced is that by picking and choosing what websites become available to users via Free Basics, the initiative is violating net neutrality laws. It’s this accusation that saw India ban the Free Basics/internet.org initiative altogether earlier this year (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/08/india-facebook-free-basics-net-neutrality-row), stating that, “differential tariffs arguably disadvantage small content providers…This may thus, create entry barriers and non-level playing field for these players, stifling innovation. In addition, TSPs may start promoting their own web sites/apps/services platforms by giving lower rates for accessing them”.
Evaluating the internet.org initiative has proven to be complex, but ultimately… *FINISH CONCLUSION…