Since When Is Free Web Access a Bad Thing?
Internet content and service providers are poised to offer an economically and socially transformative service to millions of people in developing countries: low-cost access to the Web. That is, if regulators and self-proclaimed consumer advocates don’t stop them.
The latest skirmish in the never-ending net-neutrality wars concerns Facebook ’s Free Basics, a “zero-rated” service that allows users to access Facebook—and other useful websites—without incurring data charges.
The program has already brought 15 million new users online, and it’s available to a billion more in 38 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “Who could possibly be against this?” Mark Zuckerberg recently marveled in the Times of India.
A lot of people, apparently. Although much of the developing world has welcomed Free Basics, net-neutrality scolds deride it. In fact, intense criticism in India prompted regulators to pull the plug on Free Basics at the end of last year while they consider rules that would ban “differentiated pricing” plans entirely.