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Motorists ride past a billboard displaying Facebook's Free Basics initiative in Mumbai, India
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Unlike India, not everyone has a problem with Free Basics.
STAYING BASIC

Guyana created its own version of Facebook Free Basics, without Facebook’s help

By Joon Ian Wong

Free Basics is Facebook’s controversial plan to offer a limited version of the internet to users for free. Indian regulators blocked it in February for violating net-neutrality principles. But now the government of Guyana, a tiny South American country with a population of under 1 million people, has just endorsed a homegrown version of the service, and Facebook didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Last week a local mobile operator, GTT, announced it would let users with data plans access Facebook and WhatsApp at no cost. This treatment of the data, known as “zero rating,” would be accompanied by free access for any GTT user, even those without data plans, to 20 websites selected by the operator. The plan’s name? “Free Basic 4G Services.”

For GTT, the free data program should boost usage and could lead to an increased data subscriber base. For Guyana itself, the offering could raise internet penetration rates.

A government official told the Guyana Chronicle that the GTT plan ”augurs well” for the country’s development. “This is part of our commitment to bridging the digital divide and the reason why the government of Guyana supports it wholeheartedly,” the official, Derrick Cummings, told iNewsGuyana at the event.

Guyana isn’t listed among the 42 countries where Free Basics is available, and Sandvine, a software vendor to the Guyana program, confirms that Facebook isn’t involved in the Guyana offering. Neither GTT nor Facebook have responded to requests for comment.