Facebook is now free for all Digicel customers with smartphones
All Digicel customers can now access social network Facebook for free on their mobile phones without affecting their data plan or credit. The Facebook Flex was introduced to Jamaican customers on Wednesday.
The move, which is intended to increase the number of customers who access the Internet, suggests a shift in strategy for Digicel. Despite the free Facebookaccess, however, the telecoms company still holds a very strong position against the concept of ‘net neutrality’ which it sees as an abuse of its investment by Internet companies including those that offer free communication services online. Previously Digicel customers could buy data plans that allowed free use ofFacebook and other social networks. But now all Digicel customers with data-enabled phones can use Facebook for free to connect with their friends, families and others as well as access a variety of health, education, finance, communication, news and local information websites. With Facebook Flex, customers can, like posts, comment, view news and status updates, upload pictures and use Facebook Messenger, all for free. No data plan or credit is required. The ability to send and receive messages via Facebook Messenger, is likely to further reduce use of SMS texting. In addition to free Facebook, Digicel has also introduced Free Basics, which provides access to a variety of health, education, finance, communication, news and local information websites. “This move forms part of our mission to broaden public access to basic services via the Internet through the Free Basics programme, while reducing the cost to get online,” Digicel told the Jamaica Observer. “Additionally, Digicel is always striving to provide more value through new and innovative ways and free Facebook (and Free Basics) is another way we’re fulfilling this value proposition to all our subscribers.” Jamaica is the fifth Digicel market to get free access to Facebook and other sites. The programme was initially launched in Panama as part of the internet.org initiative, which is supported by Facebook. Since then, the programme has also launched in El Salvador, Suriname and Barbados, with other markets set to follow. Despite the move, however, Digicel has not completely given up on its opposition to net neutrality. “Digicel fully supports an open Internet and this initiative is about making the content that people want more accessible,” Digicel told the Caribbean Business Report. “It supports local businesses as it makes it easier for potential customers to access their Facebook pages; it encourages persons who have never been part of the online economy to begin to participate in it.” But it noted, “Strict net neutrality rules would have the opposite effect as they protect the big Internet companies against competition from local Caribbean companies, which is something that would damage the local economies in the Caribbean as they take money out of the economy without investing or employing anyone locally. We don’t support that.” The company does support segmenting data between content that has high or low value. “The simple fact is that all data is not equal. Kim Kardashian “breaking the Internet” with a naked tweet is not the same as Boston Children’s Hospital using the Internet for a telemedicine intervention. By its very nature, one set of content is infinitely more important than another. “Available capacity on any broadband network – especially mobile networks— is a limited resource and this resource has value. As such, users who place a higher value on priority delivery of their content should be able to secure such priority from operators. “Likewise, consumers who do not need prioritisation should not have to pay for it. Prioritisation allows operators to optimise the use of their networks, reduce costs and tailor pricing according to customers demand for capacity – which in turn benefits the customer and improves the overall experience for them. “In essence, we need a commercially open Internet which serves the interests of all customers and encourages network operators to roll out broadband to everyone,” Digicel said. Meanwhile, Digicel is bearing the costs for providing free access to Free Basics and Facebook Flex. “We believe it will increase the number of new customers who didn’t have access to the Internet before or simply didn’t feel the need to use it. Digicel is working closely with Facebook to provide free access to Free Basics and Facebook Flex and we are jointly marketing this to increase awareness and get more customers connected to the Internet.”
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