This week, India banned Facebook’s free basics, an ambitious project started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking to provide internet to 2/3 of the world without internet access. Free basics previously referred to as internet.org uses solar-powered drones and spacecraft to beam internet to the developing world. Users are then able to access basic internet services such as weather reports, Wikipedia, new sites such as BBC, health information as well as Facebook at no cost. The plan with Free basics was to have users enjoy the basic services as well as serve as a point of introduction to the internet,and in turn inspire these users to explore other parts of the web.
Free Basics faced criticism in different parts of the world with over 67 digital rights groups – including i Freedom Uganda, Ecuador’s Usuarios Digitales and Indonesia’s ICT Watch petitioning Mark Zuckerberg over the service.The concerns were that the scheme violates on the privacy concerns as one of the guidelines for developers on the platform was that the websites should not include the HTTPS, TLS or SSL encryption technologies. Other concerns were that the site was issuing faster access to some sites disadvantaging businesses relying on the internet.
According to local paper Business Daily, ICT CS Joe Mucheru has ruled out the banning of free basics. The CS says Kenya does not have a position on net neutrality and was currently in the process of reviewing the ICT policy of 2016, that will define net neutrality position as well as over-the-top services such as WhatsApp. In Kenya, Airtel Kenya is a telco partner of free basics with the scheme covering 35 countries and over 19 million people accessing the internet.