Accepted paper:

What is free about free basics?


Jenna Keenan-Alspector (University of Colorado - Boulder)

Paper short abstract:

Investigating how industry giants leverage power and increase inequalities, further straining the resources of the poor; a new 'digital ill' has risen: the emergence of the drug dealer of mobile broadband, Free Basics.

Paper long abstract:

How can we achieve social justice and equality in digital development? Access to Information. Information is Freedom, Knowledge is Power! Information is largely contained on the internet, therefore, access to the internet provides both freedom and power. As such, universal access to the internet is both a target of the Sustainable Development Goals and parroted as essential by the World Bank's Digital Dividends Report. Free Basics shares the same goal, "connecting the world," but it is not connecting the world to all information. Free Basics provides free digital broadband content to its users in developing and deeply impoverished countries. The free content is very limited, Facebook and other self-selected corporations choose whether to participate and how much content they will provide. Net neutrality violations and price differentials are inequalities inherent to the foundation of Free Basics. Specifically, the paper proposed seeks address one aspect of this need, to build a definition of the digital divide created by "Free" services such as Free Basics. Recently, founder Mr. Zuckerberg reported Free Basics just hit over twenty-five million users. Twenty-five million users will be trapped in a perpetual inequality by either never having access to all information or lured into subscribing to data or home internet plans they couldn't afford in the first place. Development organizations, policymakers, and academics need to protect the vulnerable targets of Free Basics. The new Free Basics digital divide needs to be defined to help shape effective International ICT policies.

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panel P01
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]