Facebook Free Internet Offer: A Blessing or a Greek Gift?
It is no longer news that Facebook has offered to provide a major part of the world’s population with free access to the internet. ”Free Basics,” according to Mark Zuckerberg, aims at providing people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable. The tagline then was: “If the sun is free … If the air is free … Then why shouldn’t the internet be free?”
Initially, Facebook justified the project with the fact that “Over 85% of the world’s population live in areas with existing cellular coverage.” Hence, it at first sounded like real philanthropy. That was when Zuckerberg mouthed the idea of using satellite and drone technology to reach virgin parts of the world. Later, the company included the idea that “mobile data is expensive and hard for people to justify when they haven’t experienced the benefits of the internet.” This was the magic word used to buy in mobile operators in target countries.
An inside report by the Guardian however, showed that the plan was to require consumers to pay after a period of using the “free” package. It reported that Facebook’s growth and partnership teams persuaded mobile phone companies in the Philippines, Latin America, Africa and India to give mobile phone users who had not paid for data plans free access to Facebook. The initial financial sacrifice, Facebook told the phone companies, was an investment – giving customers a small taste of the internet would convince them to start paying to access everything the web had to offer.
Then, one is pressed to ask: is Free Basic truly free?
Now, the story is closer home. Recall that we reported that the coy launched the Free Basics service in Nigeria during the week in partnership with a local mobile services provider.
If Facebook had provided free internet access to everyone as earlier touted (using the satellite), that would have meant free internet access for millions of Nigerians. That is the good part. The better part is that internet based industries will grow tremendously: talk about e-commerce, freelancing, outsourcing etc. The dynamics of entrepreneurs mobility will also change since you can now work from anywhere. What is more? Local service providers will value their customers.
On the flip side, such incursion will drastically affect the income of mobile operators as chatting and online calls will replace traditional models. Yet, their data services will not be required anymore and their revenue will dip. Attendant effects will follow. Workers will be laid off. Allied companies will suffer. The taxes they pay will be off and the social programmes too! We must remember that Facebook neither has a physical presence here nor does it need to.
As it stands, the company has adopted to partner with a local mobile operator. And, very soon the promo will roll out. The question is at what cost to Nigerians?
If the mobile operator gets more subscribers as a result of the free service, experience has shown that the subscribers will leave when the free service ceases. Nigerians hardly discard their first lines. Then, nothing is gained.
If it ever remains free, the implementation in other countries have shown a disturbing fact. The first is that Facebook itself would decide which sites can be accessed on the platform. The model in India only allowed access to 36 bookmarked sites and Facebook was the only social network available. There was one weather app, three sites for women’s issues, and the search engine Bing. In other words, it is free but not really free since users can’t access sites outside the ones chosen for them.
In summary, experience has shown over time that companies are not ever going to do good for goodness sake. The aim of Facebook’s free basic is to expand its user base, which will mean more business users, more adverts and more income for them. Indeed, the quest for broadband ubiquity must be embarked upon by our government and industry stakeholders with a strategic road-map.
We are not there yet.
ENJOY FREE CONTENTS FROM US
IN YOUR EMAIL
Breaking News, Events, Music & More
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.