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Free Basics and Why Zuckerberg is Right December 29, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

I never thought I would write the phrase “Zuckerberg is right”. I am not a Facebook user, and I kind of disdain the whole concept.  Here is why I am doing so.

Free Basics is about providing a limited amount of Internet access for everyone in the world. Facebook is one of the apps included in the service. Others include AccuWeather, Ask.com, Baby Center, Bing, Dictionary.com and Wikipedia.  Facebook is one of the supporters and drivers of this.

Critics say that it violates net neutrality principles, and supports Facebook’s commercial strategy. Both true.  But net neutrality is a two-edged sword; mostly it’s supportable, but it does tend to favor some activities over others, despite its name.  Like most principles in life, it should not be implemented as a pure concept, but as a compromise between competing parties.

And about Facebook’s business strategy. Zuckerberg is well known for his philanthropy and his business acumen.  I have never met him, but I would guess that his reasons are a complex combination of both.  Even so, any business advantage it might provide will take decades or more to realize a financial advantage.  Eighty percent of the world population isn’t in a position to buy what Facebook advertisers are selling.

I personally would not include Facebook in the category of a basic right of the Internet. But a decade ago the discussion would have been Yahoo.  Having access to everyone in the world does not assure Facebook’s viability as a business.  In a decade or two, it will be some other online service, or something else entirely.

Regarding Free Basics, I don’t know if the world is yet ready to treat certain online activities as a fundamental right. Hell, in parts of the world we can’t even treat living as a fundamental right.  If it happens, it will likely get abused for political, military, or commercial purposes.  But I understand why the Free Basics concept exists, and I think Zuckerberg is right to be a part of it.



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