As we face a global health crisis caused by Covid-19, it’s clearer than ever that internet access is a lifeline, not a luxury. But almost half the world remains unable to get online and many others have limited connectivity and struggle to afford data. We must work to ensure everyone has ‘meaningful connectivity’, including access to enough data at sufficient speeds to make full use of the web.
So we are encouraged that Facebook is testing a new product called ‘Discover’ to improve on its existing Free Basics program. Discover will allow users text-only browsing on any website, using a limited daily allowance of free data provided by participating mobile operators — whereas users of Free Basics are currently limited to sites that are actively submitted by developers and that meet a technical criteria.
Initiatives to bring more people online and support those with limited connectivity are vital, but they should always provide access to the entire web — not just a limited selection of sites. Discover represents an important first step in that direction and shows Facebook making progress on its commitment under the Contract for the Web to make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone.
However, while zero-rating initiatives like this can help existing internet users stay connected when they have limited data, our research shows they are less successful at bringing new users online. We urge Facebook and other technology and internet providers to take additional measures to help those with no service to connect meaningfully to the internet.
As Facebook continues to test its Discover product, we look forward to seeing how it will demonstrate progress in meeting its other commitments under the Contract for the Web across all its products and services.
Find out more about the Contract for the Web at contractfortheweb.org.
To receive a weekly news brief on the most important stories in tech, subscribe to The Web This Week.