Facebook’s Free Basics: An improved version

The issue to be addressed: The digital divide in India
Actor: Facebook (or similar company), NGOs, Governments, local leaders

The issue I’m going to address here is one that I’ve already talked about in my paper. However, in light of more research and class discussions on communication for development, I believe there are lots of improvements that can be made to the internet.org initiative that Facebook has launched. I’m going to briefly outline the plan that I believe will be able to help bridge the digital divide.

Approximately half of the world does not have access to something that the rest of the world has taken for granted. This seems inherently wrong. While nothing but time can equalize this access, we have a way to temporarily bridge the gap until more permanent solutions are found. Offer some of the internet for free to those that have access to none of it. Along with this access (which Facebook is currently offering in the form of the Free Basics app), NGOs work on the grassroots level to promote media literacy. However, before full-scale operations take place, local leaders (village panchayat or government) are consulted and educated about the internet and its benefits. Convincing them will make it easier for this plan to be adopted by other people. It is also important to make sure that the Free Basics app contains the portion of the internet that would most benefit each particular region in which it is offered.

Village panchayat heads are influential leaders in rural India with a large amount of power to shape opinions. Before the courts, all disputes and governance issues were solved by the Panchayats and some of them still retain that power. This, in part, is the reason for India’s three-tiered system of governance (Central, State and Vilage) and it must be taken advantage of using Katz and Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow of communication theory.

One of the biggest drawbacks of Zuckerberg’s plan for free internet is the lack of instruction manual for people who have no experience with it. This is why the media literacy program is especially important.

However I believe this plan is just a tiny step towards bridging the divide. It is meant to simply act as a way for people to discover how the internet could help and this, hopefully, will lead to a more sustainable solution.

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