Facebook Has Finally Launched Free Basics in Its Biggest African Market
Social network giant, Facebook, has launched its Free Basics service in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country—and its biggest market on the continent. The platform which allows users to access listed websites at no cost was launched in partnership with Airtel, the country’s third largest telecoms operator with almost 34 million subscribers.
Free Basics is part of Facebook’s internet.org initiative which aims to provide internet access to the two-thirds of the world without it and the company says the project has helped bring 25 million people online globally. In Nigeria, where it has 16 million users, the high price of dataremain an impediment to internet access despite growing smartphone penetration.
The controversial free service has been criticized for its “walled garden” version of the internet to users meaning they could only accept select websites on the service. But Facebook responded by opening up the platform to a wider range of sites which met “technical specifications.” While it has drawn the ire of net neutrality advocates globally, it has also faced stiff opposition from some national regulators. Indiaeffectively banned the service earlier this year despite intense lobbying from Facebook. The move was expected to spur critics of the service toseek similar bans in other countries but across Africa, the service has been largely welcome. In Tanzania, where internet penetration stands at only 5%, the country’s regulator said the possibility of increased “adoption of data services” by Tanzanians was more beneficial to the market.