Facebook in talks with US officials and carriers over "Free Basics" app
10 October 2016 | James Pearce
Facebook, the US government and carriers have held talks over launching an American version of a controversial app that offers internet access for “free".
Free Basics is the social media giant’s app that allows users to access certain websites for free, and is already available through carriers in more than 40 countries.
According to reports from the Washington Post, Facebook has been locked in talks with government officials and wireless carriers in a bid to bring Free Basics to the US, offering low-income and rural Americans free Internet access to resources such as online news, health information and job leads.
The app has already proven controversial in some markets. Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) banned Free Basics five months after it launched in partnership with Reliance, saying it breached the tenets of net neutrality.
Trai ruled that the app, part of Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org campaigns attempt to connect everyone in the world to the internet, was offering an unfair advantage to certain websites by offering differential costing, a practice known as “zero rating”.
In the wake of the controversy, Facebook updated Free Basics to allow any third-party organisation to offer its services as part of the program, so long as they don’t use high-definition images or video.
The Washington Post claims Facebook has been locked in talks with numerous small and rural cellular providers since at least Spring, attempting to persuade them to support Free Basics.
However, it has not held talks with the national providers, according to people familiar with the matter, who said Facebook fears regulators might see such partnerships as anti-competitive.
“While we have nothing to announce,” the company said in a statement to the Post. “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we’re always exploring ways to do that, including in the United States.”
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found 15% of US adults have few options other than a mobile to access the internet, with 48% of those dependent on a phone having to cancel or suspend wireless services at some point due to cost.
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