Facebook Ponders ‘Free Basics’ Internet Access For U.S. Rural And Low-Income Areas

Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear on many occasions that one of Facebook's biggest goals is to bring Internet access to everyone, everywhere. As part of that effort, he and his company are in discussions both with officials in the United States government and wireless carriers on how to release an app that would bring free Internet to low-income and rural Americans.

The app already exists in some foreign markets, though not without controversy. It's called Free Basics, and it was shot down in India after regulators took issue with the idea that Facebook could handpick the services users could see and use. The concern there is that giving Facebook so much control over the Internet experience could put competing companies and nonprofit organizations at a disadvantage.


Despite the criticism abroad, Facebook wants to bring a version of the app to U.S. soil. It would be intended for Americans who can't afford high-speed Internet at home or on smartphones, but the way it works is unique. Rather than pay for a user's mobile data, the app would expand a user's data plan by working with wireless carriers to offer Internet access to certain online resources, such as news and health information.

It's not clear the full extent of the services that would qualify, though it's sure to cause a stir once word spreads. The argument in favor of Free Basics is that it's needed for Americans who aren't in a position to fully utilize the web—services offering job leads is an example of something that might be included. But on the flip side, there will be those who argue that Facebook's program will favor businesses and services with the budget and known-how to participate.

"While we have nothing to announce, Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we’re always exploring ways to do that, including in the United States," Facebook told The Washington Post in a statement.

After its experience in India, Facebook is being extra careful about how it approaches the roll out of Free Basics in the U.S. It wants to make sure that government officials view it positively. To help with that, it changed some of its terms, one of them being that any third-party organization can participate in Free Basics as long as their developers follow a set of rules. One of those rules would disallow the use of high-definition images or video.