Facebook has been in discussions with government officials and telecommunications companies in the United States over the possibility of launching its controversial Free Basics program in the country.
Free Basics provides users with access to services such as news, information, travel, local jobs, healthcare, and many more, including the Facebook and Messenger apps, without counting against the data caps of the users in their mobile subscription. The program looks to bring users with limited income online and improve internet connectivity in all parts of the world.
The program, however, has been met with controversy. While currently operating in 53 countries across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, it has been banned in India and Egypt. Facebook pulled the plug on the program in India in February after net neutrality concerns were raised, and in Egypt because the government believed that it would be used to spy on users.
According to a report by the Washington Post, Facebook is now trying to figure out how to launch Free Basics in the United States without being subjected to the same scrutiny that it has previously received, particularly the anti-net neutrality allegations against Free Basics in India.
Free Basics has been criticized by proponents of net neutrality because they believe that internet service providers should not be allowed to select which services do and do not count against data caps because that will give an unfair advantage to websites and apps that are zero-rated.
The net neutrality rules of the Federal Communications Commission, however, does not prevent carriers in the United States from offering exemptions to data caps, with the major companies already offering zero-rated content. AT&T and Verizon, in fact, even charge companies to have their website or service not count against the data cap of users.
The services that Facebook will be offering under Free Basics has not yet been finalized, but the report claims that the company has been talking to many small and rural cellular service companies since at least the spring to get them to support the program. Facebook has not tried to forge a partnership with the major carriers, though, as the company is concerned that such a move could be seen as anti-competitive by regulators.
Advocates of Free Basics claim that the program could solve the connectivity issues that are still present in the United States. With the program to make it easier for underserved members of the society to access social and civic services online, more Americans would be able to enjoy the benefits of high-speed internet.
Facebook has not confirmed the discussions to bring Free Basics to the United States, but the company said in a statement that its mission is to connect the world and that it's working to do just that, including in the country.