During a Mobile World Congress keynote, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he will continue to roll out programs aimed at providing affordable internet access in emerging markets. The social network's Free Basics initiative came under intense criticism in India over net neutrality violations, culminating in the country's telecom regulator banning the service.
Free Basics came under scrutiny for effectively creating a walled garden of content, one in which only select services were available. Net neutrality advocates deemed that the way the initiative was set up give Facebook too much control over the content that gets on Free Basics, putting websites and services that are not on the platform at a disadvantage.
Zuckerberg commented on the closure of Free Basics, stating that the social network would look at alternate measures to provide affordable internet access:
Facebook's mission is to connect everyone to the world. What we've learned here (with Free Basics) is that every country is different. We have all these different programs... Free Basics is the first one we've rolled out. In the first year and a half, it got 19 million people to get on the internet for the first time.
The main learning is that every country is different, and that the models that have worked in one country may not work in another.
Zuckerberg said that although Free Basics did not succeed in India, the program will continue in other regions. In India, the social network will work with telecom vendors to drive down infrastructure costs, enabling them to increase coverage areas and pass the savings down to consumers. Doing so would further lower the barrier to entry for millions to make their way onto the internet.
Facebook's new program is more in line with what Google and Microsoft have been doing in the region. Google is going to outfit over 400 railway stations with free Wi-Fi, and Microsoft is set to bring broadband access to over 500,000 rural areas in the country by leveraging unused TV spectrum.