Back in 2013, Facebook, among others, announced a partnership called Internet.org. Their goal was to bring affordable and free Internet access to developing countries in an effort to grow the Internet services industry in these territories. The app delivering their service started rolling out in developing countries in 2014 and was renamed to 'Free Basics' last year. Interestingly enough, the entire initiative caused a significant amount of controversy and was banned in India earlier this year, after the country's government decided that Facebook—the head of this program—was breaking net neutrality rules, i.e. offered discriminatory tariffs for its own profit.
That isn't to say that the program wasn't successful in some other developing countries and Facebook is still adamant at continuing with it. In fact, according to the latest report from The Washington Post, the Internet giant is currently talking with the US government about bringing Free Basics to its home country. The negotiations have reportedly been going on for months and Facebook is primarily interested in introducing Free Basics to rural areas of the US where people cannot afford or even obtain a reliable, high-speed Internet connection. Not surprisingly, Facebook would like to avoid the scenario that happened in India which is why it decided to approach the US government before launching the app.
Speaking of which, it's worth noting that Free Basics uses data just like any other app but users aren't charged for that data thanks to Facebook's partnership with local wireless carriers. In other words, while users are not paying for the data used, the cost is being offset – but the app itself doesn't support every website on the Internet. Which is precisely why this program is so controversial – while Facebook is claiming it's funding this initiative in order to connect the world, numerous parties are accusing the company of breaking net neutrality rules, given how only certain websites are accessible through Free Basics. Opponents of the initiative are arguing that Facebook is trying to take advantage of the fact that reliable, high-speed Internet connections aren't available in all parts of the world in order to offer a service which discriminates its competitors and non-profit organizations.
On the other hand, Facebook has already greatly altered its original program as it now allows any third-party company to enroll as long as it abides by its guidelines which are mostly aimed at limiting data usage. Still, it remains to be seen what the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will say about these so-called zero-rating practices as it's currently carefully scrutinizing the issue in general and has yet to announce its final opinion on the matter.