FREE internet service via BALLOONS and DRONES

Internet access today is almost seen as ubiquitous as electricity and water.

However for many people in poorer countries around the world, access to the internet is seen as providing a better future for their families and their countries’ development.

Recently a number of companies (Google, Facebook) have expressed interest in providing a “curated” internet for free along with the infrastructure to deliver it in the form of drones and balloons (Google’s project Loon). Ultimately it will be up to the government to make the final decision on whether such technology should be implemented, but what do you think?

Should global companies be allowed to provide free internet to poor countries, and if so, what are the possible conflicts of interest?

When plans were announced to develop the infrastructure to provide what Facebook had called a “Free Basics” package, the news was met with heavy criticism. While free internet for all seems like a good deal, the proposal was seen as being purely commercially motivated rather than a humanitarian effort. As a stakeholder; facebook has limited the interface and will only provide a curated version of the internet, for example users would be able to freely access only a small number of approved websites including the facebook app and sponsors. This stands to provide facebook with many new customers, however also limits the educational access that the plan was promoted as in the first place.

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Against

There is also the potentially more serious concern of using the approved sites to deliver propaganda and advertising to influence people. Services such as this have been used recently to try to affect public opinion in all manner of areas including politics and buying habits. It is clear then that with facebook so eager to do business with india, and a number of countries on the african continent, that more must be done to understand the extent of facebooks and googles intentions and the level to which potentially billions of users exposed to the internet for the first time can be exploited.

Similarly the work of google to propose a similar project has been met with equal scepticism as again a company that thrives off advertising revenue is seen to be seeking more and more customers and tapping the 3rd world. Many current investors will clearly be in support of such motion as they too will benefit by being able to reach a wider market.

It should also be noticed that although this movement has been titled ‘free internet’, Facebook has in fact sold it to mobile operators on the basis that in time, people would be willing to pay for the full version. This hidden cost must be considered by the people before engaging with the ‘free internet service’.

Additionally, this ‘free internet’ is not only an implication for government shirked responsibility, but also a devastating blow to Africa’s domestic market in the future. If Facebook will be allowed to roll out their market in the end, a series of infrastructure will be needed to be built up who may choose to employ companies outside the African syndicate. Combined with delivering propaganda to influence people before, this will become the first step for governments losing their control to their countries. Indeed, millions of people in Africa is struggling at deprived situation. However, if economy of their countries developing to a certain stage in the future, the existence of this ‘free internet service’ will be the largest block to hinder domestic internet market development. Baidu in China is a good example for this. After Chinese authority block google, Baidu has grown up at a staggering rate.

For

 ‘GOOD THINGS CAN BE FREE’

Utilitarianism; an ethical framework states ‘an action made by an individual or in this case by companies that can/will bring the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ is considered acceptable, by providing the means of free internet to developing countries, it permits children to gain a form of education that would otherwise not have been an option, YouTube is a common and popular source of attaining knowledge, where students can even interact with ‘experts’….. for free! For the parents, this could be an opportunity for them to ensure their child’s safety via online messaging.

More so, why should they be denied this opportunity? Shouldn’t the people in Africa or participating countries be given the chance to decide for themselves? With such a complex topic with many factors such as profit that comes into play, a method where both parties are happy becomes a difficult task to accomplish; yet, in this circumstance, it works very well –  Facebook obtains a new market sector and the people in developing countries receive a free means of communication. When the aspect of one’s intention is considered (virtues ethics), Mark Zuckerberg one of the intenders assured the users he is acting as a human rights defender and responding to his belief that all individuals, whether poor or rich, should have some form of access to internet (Shearlaw, 2016). As for the technology (balloons/drones) devised to be implemented to deliver the ‘free interent’ are advanced engineering designs that should not be hindered from use and should allow the inventors the approbation they deserve.

 

Facebook’s idea to provides more people in Africa with affordable Internet access sounds itself as a noble idea. And in spite of  people widely argue that such a two-tiered internet system as a Free Basics “slows down technological progress and offers the government a shortcut that short changes the public”, we have to admit that the Internet for Africa is a great possibility to speed up development and leapfrog several decades of decline, even in spite of a censorship,  restrictions  and a strict government control. Free Basics might become one of the stepping stone towards development and innovation on the continent.

We cannot change political structure in Africa, but we can adapt to it. And initiatives like Free Basics is one of such solutions!

In conclusion, both of the ethical framework mentioned above permits companies to pursue with providing free internet on ethical grounds. However, after an ethical evaluation, it seems as though the solution cannot be simplified as a black and white case, either implement it or not, there are other options available, for instance facebook offering a full version but at a cost; as a core concept of running a business is to make profit, this eliminates the problem of facebook causing propaganda. Moreover, the user can be made aware of the limitations before accepting the terms and conditions.

So we ask again? Is it ethically right for global companies to be allowed to provide free internet to poor countries?

Group 15: Joshua Jones, Siriu Li, Thamanna Siddiqa, Margarita Pashkina

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17 thoughts on “FREE internet service via BALLOONS and DRONES

  1. First comment.
    Interesting article. It is a well balanced argument, however I think companies, like Facebook, are doing no wrong by providing free internet and giving people access to internet resources. I see no issue of gaining profit when using their own funds to operate their drones. Propaganda exists on all platforms and it should be the users responsibility to choose what they believe.

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  2. Agree with the comment above, it definitely is a well balanced argument, however I believe the motives behind the project are indeed more commercially and financially orientated rather than viewed as a humanitarian act. As a result I would be against the implementation of such project due to the potential to exploit people from less developed countries.

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  3. I agree with both of the comments above and they both make a good point.
    However I believe that sometimes people live their lives through their screens and sometimes choose that over face to face communication. It is quite a relief not to have wifi because then you know people are focussing on the current moment. I’m afraid if we bring wifi to places like Africa we might lose that human aspect we sometimes lack in the West.

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  4. Nice article. I think that having free internet is a good opportunity to get a lot of information that you cannot find otherwise. It is true that the motives are commercial and not humanitarian but I personally think that we should not have a paternalistic point of view. People should have critical thinking and know how to use internet.

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  5. I agree to most of the ideas above. However, I think more importantly is how to provide a more secure free internet. It’s a even more serious problem for poor countries where people often are lack of awareness in security. Who would be responsible for monitoring the whole network?

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  6. This is a promising technology carrying equal opportunities for all countries. Business leaders need to join such initiatives.

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    1. Hi

      Thank you for your comment your comment but wpuld it be possible to mention why you agree and how this personally affects you.

      Thamanna

      Like

  7. In my honest opinion I feel that even though it’s great in terms of educational wise, the companies control what the people see because it’s free. By doing so it’s a form of a controlling the people and especially the children as they will grow learning from what has been provided for them. So in reality it is almost like you are taking away their freedom in order to bring them up to date with the new revolution of Internet. Plus with what they limit they can limit the economical aspect of having the Internet stopping countries from trading online and getting somewhere in the economy, they can stop access to the stock industry etc. So no free Internet should not be a thing if anything they should be helping the countries develop their own system such as China

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  8. Does it matter if Facebook’s motives are commercial or humanitarian? It they do a good thing for a selfish reason, it’s still a good thing right?

    To add to this, the people who stand to gain or lose from this should definitely be the ones to decide i.e. the citizens, whoever’s paying for this development etc.

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  9. I think that what facebook and google are doing is beneficial for both them in a business minded aspect and the underdeveloped areas they are targeting, its a give and get initiative but positive, yes they may been benefiting but why else do it. For google to spend such an amount to provide the free internet for those who dont have it, even restricted is better than none.

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  10. i believe that the concept is mainly financially motivated however also has humanitarian aspects. Companies are always going to look to expand into newer markets and increase profits.
    In my view this is a win-win situation because companies will gain access to new markets and Africa will gain access to new educational sources and new services.
    The Internet is always going to have propaganda and even if people don’t get exposed to it by Facebook they can gain access to it from other sources

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  11. This is a very well balanced argument with some valid points, but ultimately I think everyone should have the right to access the Internet. In western countries if the Internet is not functioning for even an hour, everyone descends into panic, that’s how important it is.

    To deny poorer countries access to the Internet would be like keeping them in the dark ages whilst everyone else progresses.

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  12. Both have pretty convincing arguments however there is this aspect of ‘nothing is truly free’ and if a service is being provided then it seems only fair that the service providers reep the benefits. Also had these countries wanted to implent internet access for themselves it would have come at a much greater cost. As we have seen internet access has greatly revolutionised areas that have access to it so what’s not to say that it won’t help these countries’ education and development, if utilised correctly. As for this aspect of propaganda, I feel that it becomes the responsibility of the users to use their judgement. It doesn’t make sense to try and protect them by restricting their exposure but rather to give them access and encourage them to use it in the most beneficial way possible.

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  13. Good article! Everything goes for its price. The only way of solving this type of problems is to stick to the one position (mindset) and keep experimenting gradually with a constant feedback.

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  14. From the beginning it seems that the decision of providing that Internet to poorer countries is a questionable decision. It obviously can cause serious consequences like the fall of economy and take the control of people’s minds. It’s up to the government to decide to accept this opportunity and deal with possible problems. It is another chance for the government to understand the importance of internet technologies for the country. It is a chance to try to introduce the internet access, to educational platforms to the people by themselves. Free internet from the sponsors is a thing to think of. If it the only opportunity for poorer countries right not, it would worth to accept it, however, letting people know about possible affects is paramount.

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  15. Thank you for you article! It was a great pleasure to read it!
    I absolutely agree with all comments above, in spite of they are all different and support various positions, all make a good point. But the most interesting thing is that there is not obvious judgement in the considered case. And what I personally think, we should take a deeper look at the problem, at its consequences on society and the country in the long run. Does it a good idea to violate net neutrality? What consequences will it have if suck big company as Facebook will insert itself as ” a gatekeeper to the online world”?

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