Facebook Inc Free Basics, which has lately run into trouble in a number of countries, has picked up yet another critic. The World Bank’s Digital Report, released recently, calls Free Basics “a distortion of markets.”
Titled “World Development Report – Digital Dividends,” the report argues that while digital tech has spread rapidly, the impact is not been felt equitably. The bank reckons that any attempt to choke the net by any service, anywhere in the world, is a threat to the very core of basic human rights.
World Bank Rebuffs Facebook
“The recent trend to develop (free) services…would appear to be the antithesis of net neutrality and a distortion of markets,” the report says. “An open and free internet is also a key contributing factor to innovation in the digital economy…making it critical to protect this openness.”
“Care should be taken to ensure that users have the greatest possible access to internet-based content, applications, and services of their choice,” the report added.
“Net neutrality” as a concept seeks equal net access for all users. It denies wireless providers the right to charge more for some services. Under the restrictive Free Basics scheme, users in 37 countries can access a basic range of sites on their mobile devices. These include the popular Wikipedia, BBC News and Reuters Market.
As part of Facebook Inc ’s internet.org initiative, Free Basics was first introduced in India in 2015. It was later relaunched with a larger bouquet of services. But state agencies shut down the service last month amid a probe into alleged price wrong doings.
World Bank’s criticism tracks closely with that of a large number of activists. Most of them fear the service threatens basic rights to the internet. Mark Zuckerberg has so far vehemently defended the scheme, asking rhetorically, “Who wouldn’t want free internet?”
Facebook Intensifies Lobbying Efforts
Facing flak over its contentious platform, Facebook launched an email campaign in India to gather support. The new campaign asks users to act to save free net access. The social network argues that free access is indispensable. More so considering that almost 80% of the country is still not connected to the net.
Indian regulators “must ensure that any intervention does not end up depriving people of the opportunity to come online. Instead, (they) need to create an environment where access expanding programs can flourish,” the ad said.
Shares of Facebook Inc closed last session at $94.55. The stock is down 9% year to date.