Facebook's 'Free Basics' programme, which is intended to provide free internet access to developing countries, may be stuttering but the need for web access in the poorest areas of Africa remains urgent.

Finally! Finally, there is someone who understands that access to the World Wide Web is a 'basic human right'. The internet provides tremendous opportunities to poorer communities, which they have been missing in past decades, in order to develop their countries socially, economically and culturally. Therefore, they need 'free' access to a 'basic' package of data provided through a satellite connection owned and controlled by a private organisation in the US.

Facebook’s 'Free Basics' programme, developed with six internet service providers as an “onramp to the internet”, is aimed to help those without the internet get online. The idea is exciting enough to attract 42 countries, most of which are in Africa, a continent in desperate need of basic infrastructure to exploit its outstanding growth potential in the service sector as well as its entrepreneurial creativity. 

Unfortunately, the sweet illusion of 'free' goods or services usually comes with a cost in a capitalist world. John F Rockefeller used this so-called 'freebie marketing' strategy in the 19th century to successfully expand his business into China. He gave away free kerosene lamps, binding the consumers to the kerosene which only he produced in his refineries. 

In the case of Facebook’s Free Basics programme, the consumers will give away unencumbered freedom of full access to the limitless possibilities of the web in exchange for a 'free' package of handpicked websites from the donor, Facebook. India cancelled this generous deal shortly after its implementation, and not merely because of the widely discussed aspect of 'net neutrality'. The free service was mainly used by already connected users and thus neglected its main goal of connecting new users to the internet. 

For African countries, the internet has proven to be a priceless source of information in rural areas, a provider of new opportunities for entrepreneurs, as well as offering access to the latest research for knowledge-hungry youngsters, many of whom want to change their lives and their countries for better. Therefore, what these countries need is more investment in their domestic infrastructure, in digital education and in unlimited connectivity. 

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. Email: m.rafaty@lic-consulting.com

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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