A controversial Facebook platform that offers users free Internet —but a limited choice of websites and apps—was launched in Phnom Penh on Thursday in cooperation with mobile operator Smart Axiata, its CEO said on Friday.
“Free Basics,” which is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, allows users to access 22 basic services, said Smart CEO Thomas Hundt. According to a statement released by Smart on Thursday, users will be able to visit websites including Wikipedia, Bing and Khmerload, as well as Facebook and its messaging service.
Smart subscribers will be able to access the platform through the Free Basics website and via an app available on Android-enabled mobile devices.
Since its launch last year, Internet.org has proved highly controversial, with some claiming it compromises “net neutrality” due to users only having access to a limited number of preselected websites.
In an interview with The Guardian in May, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said people should “just say no” to the initiative.
“No it isn’t free, no it isn’t in the public domain, there are other ways of reducing the price of Internet connectivity and giving something…[only] giving people data connectivity to part of the network deliberately, I think is a step backwards,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked about concerns over net neutrality, Mr. Hundt said only that “additional contents can be and will be included” in Free Basics.
Javier Sola, program director of the local NGO Open Institute, said he was skeptical about how popular Internet.org and Free Basics would prove considering the already widespread use of Facebook.
“Internet.org is a service that gives you access to a batch of websites for free, and for example you can access Facebook, [but] without pictures and videos,” Mr. Sola said.
“The numbers of people using Facebook is higher than those using the Internet, so these people are already paying to use Facebook and they’re used to Facebook that has pictures and media. I don’t know how they will react to a free service without them.”