February 10, 2016 Leave a comment
Facebook’s recent attempts to make inroads into India have hit a roadblock. Their Free Basics plan, which is designed to provide free, but limited, Internet access was banned recently. The problem, as Indians and net neutrality proponents see it, is that the plan allows for free access to the Internet, but only to a limited selection of sites and apps. The idea of net neutrality is that all traffic, and all access, to the Internet should be treated equally. That means that companies can’t charge more for users accessing certain sites, like those owned by rival companies.
Although only 252 million of India’s 1.3 billion people have Internet access, the Free Basics plan only enrolled about 1 million people before it was banned. It wasn’t very successful, and part of that was because Facebook didn’t consider that country’s active civil society. Unlike in, say, the United States, people in India actually talk and do things with their neighbors, and they care about their ability to do those things. That translates to the Internet by allowing access to any part of the web, not just those bits your provider feels you should care about.
Although Facebook hasn’t issued any official statements on the ban, hey don’t seem like they’re too upset, and Free Basics is only part of their larger tactic or gaining Indian users. If they’re smart, then what they’ll do is learn more about India, and try to find a way to appeal to Indian users.
In fact, that’s a pretty good idea for any business that’s trying to expand into new markets: instead of assuming that you know what that market needs or wants, assume that you don’t. Because you don’t. Especially when you’re dealing with a different culture than the one you’re used to, you have to actually learn about that culture. Imperialism is dead, you can’t just go to other paces and say “This is how it is now.”