Facebook’s Internet.org program, intended to supply free Internet to people in developing countries, is renaming its app “Free Basics”–and allowing developers greater flexibility in creating apps for the platform.
In a Facebook post published Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced the changes, explaining why the company was rebranding the initiative. “We’ve changed the name of the app providing these free basic services to ‘Free Basics,”‘ he wrote. “We want to make it clear that the apps you can use through Internet.org are free, basic services that can give you access to essential resources like BabyCenter.”
BabyCenter is just one of more than 60 services created by developers for Internet.org, offered in countries like India, Colombia, Ghana, and the Philippines. Launched in 2013, Internet.org initially (and controversially) provided access only to Facebook and content from select partners; earlier this year, however, it was opened up to all developers, albeit with a number of limitations. According to Zuckerberg’s post from yesterday, handing developers greater flexibility will “[give] people the power to choose what apps they want to use.”
Though seemingly innocuous and well-intentioned, Internet.org has been a point of contention for Facebook: In India and Indonesia, users have expressed their frustration with the platform’s finite content, and some people have accused Facebook of offering “a walled garden” rather than actual Internet access. If a user tries to view content that isn’t included in Facebook’s free package, they are asked to pay for a data plan–prompting users and advocacy groups to call Internet.org’s truncated services a violation of net neutrality.
Zuckerberg has countered with the claim that limited Internet access is better than none. “To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free,” he wrote in a Facebook post earlier this year. “If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.” Changing the name of Internet.org’s app to Free Basics helps address this concern, both by differentiating the app from the overarching organization and eliminating the word “Internet”; using the phrase “free, basic services” insinuates that the app does not promise unfettered access to the Internet.
Facebook is currently gearing up to test drones that could eventually bring Internet access to underserved areas at a rate of 10 GB per second.