Internet.org's "Free Basics": Can Free Internet Initiatives Improve the Lives of Kenya's Rural Poor?
The global Internet penetration rate is 62.0%, indicating that many people are offline. This divide raises questions regarding Internet accessibility and the repercussions of the absence of quality Internet provision. Internet.og's Free Basics aims to make the world more open and connected and aid the poorest of the poor by offering pared-down web services, such as Facebook and BBCNews. Critics have characterized Internet.org as an anti-net neutrality service that is anti-innovation. They also condemn Free Basics for its limited websites offerings and external links that require paid-for Internet, which they argue, renders the app useless. Most research concerning the value of free Internet initiatives focuses on the urban poor, yet the digital divide is intensified in rural regions of developing countries. This study aims to measure the impact of Internet.org's Free Basics app on Kenya's poor rural population. The questions that guide this research are: Does Free Basics reach the poorest of the poor? If so, do they benefit from the product, or are free Internet initiatives exacerbating the digital divide? By subsetting household data collected by Sauti za Wananchi and performing statistical analysis, I find that ?Free Basics services are available to only 2% of the rural poor population. The question then becomes: what about Free Basics makes it helpful to that 2%? I conclude that Free Basics is marginally relevant due to the app's restricted websites and information. This research ccallsInternet.org's mission into question and suggests alternative ways Free Basics could address the global digital divide.
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