posted on Thu, Dec 24 '15 under tag: web

Free Basics gives poor people access to health-care info. Why are Indians opposing it then? Asks @MikeatFacebook who’s apparently a VP at Facebook.

I wanted to answer him on Twitter itself but he also got bored with talking to me and left. From the little thoughts we exchanged before that, here’s what emerged.

There are several examples of apps/websites that are getting more traffic since Free Basics was launched. These include:

These are all great services!

Why do you still hate Free Basics?

Because Free Basics is doing it wrong. Wrong? How?

All these services and millions more like these are what makes the Internet the Internet. It is not that any of these are bad, it is that these are good and there are many more good services out there. No matter what Free Basics does, it will never be providing all the services on the Internet. And therein lies the problem.

Free Basics will never be able to provide even a percentage of what the real Internet can. But it still wants to be all the Internet that a lot of people in India gets.

But, isn’t something better than nothing?

Well, in the short run, maybe yes. But think of the long term health of the community, Internet, and everything.

By destroying competition and giving a free pass, Free Basics harm both their partners and outsiders. Partners start becoming less and less interested in quality; and outsiders become more and more desperate to get users.

They say so many people who start with Free Basics get full Internet packs within 30 days. But what’s conspicuously missing here is the number of people who had been using the full Internet and went to using Free Basics only or using the services provided in Free Basics more than others because they’re free. Also missing is the number of people who would have had bought Internet even without Free Basics in their way.

Yet Free Basics tries to position itself as an on-boarding platform for new Internet users. It says it familiarizes people to the Internet and makes them want the full Internet. Education (digital literacy) is very important to people using Internet correctly and usefully. But I am not sure how providing a curated set of “free” apps is education. (In Facebook’s terms, even access to Wikipedia is education.)

All things said, would I still be opposing Free Basics if Facebook changes it to allow all websites on the Internet (with some data cap)? Well, maybe yes. Because of reasons similar to why Indian Medical Association opposes a course for creating half-doctors.

Everyone deserves the full Internet. If there are barriers to accessing it, these barriers must be destroyed by curative action. Yes, Facebook has done a good thing by raising the point about affordability. Now it is their time to slowly back away from their botched solution and let India build a strong, vibrant, and open Internet that is accessible for everyone.

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