Subdued capitalist venture or a genuine allurement to the bleeding hearts, Free Basics, an initiative adopted by Mark Zuckerberg for India is still opaque to the majority.
With Facebook timelines clamoring with strong opinionated posts about the initiative it becomes obvious to blur out.
Friends for us
Karthik Srinivasan, social media and digital marketing professional drolly attempted to decipher the mass dilemma of free basics via the language of popular TV series, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, which most of them (including me) seem to comprehend far better than straightforward words.
Picking up a chunk from episode 3 of season 4, Srinivasan very subtly painted the picture of Free Basics. To sum up promptly, this portion showed a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman managing to sell Joey a single volume of the encyclopedia set he wanted to sell for $1,200, for a mere $50. It happens to be Volume V (with topics starting with V).
To draw relation, Zuckerberg in this situation plays the role of the salesman luring to sell us lumps of internet, in short leaving us with tapered consumption of information, when ideally we should have it all. Whereas Joey, being the dim headed he is, plays us, ironically.
Free basic activists
Where Srinivasan creatively uses F.R.I.E.N.D.S. to put across his thoughts, influencers with decent followers are vocally criticizing the act by sharing their opinions simplistically to reach a majority.
Vishal Dadlani posted a video on Facebook trying to explain the drawbacks of supporting the campaign; along with him, our good old folks - the All India Backchod (AIB) tried to do the same with a series of videos by breaking down the flip side of Free basics, again released on Facebook.
Founder & Editor of Medianama.com and volunteer of savetheinternet.in, Nikhil Pahwa explains the situation correctly through a tweet; saying, ‘Free Basics doesn't give Internet access. It gives access to Facebook and its partners.’
Free Basics doesn't give Internet access. It gives access to Facebook and its partners https://t.co/WcvWUMTbS0
— Nikhil Pahwa (@nixxin) December 23, 2015
Gatekeeper’s version of Free Basics Facebook’s anticipated Free Basics project lets users to avail of services like education, health care and employment listings through apps specifically considered for this platform, but refuses to allow access to many services such as YouTube, Gmail, Google or Twitter despite a data plan. "If we accept that everyone deserves access to the Internet, then we must surely support free basic Internet "If we accept that everyone deserves access to the Internet, then we must surely support free basic Internet services" said Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg when he appeared on a video to personally promote Free Basics. Additionally, the Times of India published an opinion piece by Zuckerberg defending Free Basics and its benefit to the lower strata or the internet virgins. Facebook further published full page advertisements in daily newspapers, resorted to OOH hoardings, and a text-based campaign to further promote Free Basics. If media reports are to be beleived, Facebook spent around INR 25 Crores in print and OOH advertising. Net neutrality advocate Mahesh Murthy, too mentions Facebook's ad spends for promoting Free Basics in his column, pegging them at around INR 100 Crores.
In his personal piece, Zuckerberg wrote, "Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. But even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives." He adds that "half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days."
He further adds that, "half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days."
To sum it up, Zuckerberg claims that Free Basics is a connection to the full internet access and digital equality.
The is debate still rampant in the country; the deadline by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is open till December 30, 2015.
However, a market where internet sounds synonymous to Facebook intensely generates a disturbing dynamics for the internet, which until now is considered to be a democratic, boundless space.