World Bank throws cold water on Facebook's free basic Internet

Friday January 15 2016

Facebook has launched a new feature in Kenya, allowing mobile users to share their location with friends, though subscribers have termed it a ready platform for abuse.

The 'Facebook' logo is reflected in a young woman's sunglasses as she browses on a tablet in Bangalore. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Facebook's plan to provide free basic internet will distort the market and introduce bias on what users can access, the World Bank has said in the latest attack against the Internet giant's bid.

In its World Development Report 2016, released Wednesday, the lender says Facebook’s Free Basic services will distort markets since it is against the principles of net neutrality.

"Recent trend to develop services in which some basic content can be accessed free of charge (such as Facebook's Free Basics or, while other content is subject to data charges, would appear to be the antithesis of net neutrality and a distortion of markets."

The service which is is already in Kenya provides free access to a limited number of Internet services, like Facebook, Wikipedia and weather information, while others are blocked.

The principle of net neutrality demands that Internet Service Providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.

Partnered with Airtel Africa

Facebook has already partnered with Airtel Africa in a move to supply high speed internet to remote parts of Kenya. However, there have been worries locally that generally, telecommunication firms will have to device means of increasing data, voice and SMS revenue as free Internet is rolled out.

"Care should be taken to ensure that users have the greatest possible access to internet-based content, applications and services of their choice," said the World Bank report.

Facebook’s Free Basics has been widely contested since its launch, with the CEO Mark Zuckerberg changing its name from to its current Free Basics name to ward off controversy.

Largely, telecom firms the world over say Free Basics does not reach it targeted market, the marginalised, it competes them in revenue without setting up infrastructure locally.

In October, Mr Zuckerberg defended Free Basics saying, "You cannot provide the whole Internet for free."