Free Data Benefits Extend Beyond Corporate Profit

A recent op-ed by Mike Elgan, writing for Computer World, took aim at the profit motivation behind companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon for their free data offerings. Each company has been experimenting with new methods of providing internet connectivity or digital goods at no cost to consumers. Some praise companies offering free data options for creating innovative means for the digitally disconnected to get online. Others try to discount the offering as little more than an attempt by large corporations to increase their potential customer pool.

In truth, the promise and potential of free data programs cannot be reduced to this kind of binary thinking. At a time when wages remain stagnant, technology access is becoming a necessity, not just a nicety. As such, we must explore new avenues for reducing the digital divide.  In fact, it is incumbent upon us as a society to ensure that all people – regardless of income, ethnicity, or geography – have the tools to get online.

Free Data Offerings Help Close the Digital Divide

Based on data from the Federal Communications Commission, 55 million Americans still lack broadband access at home. Many of those people are members of low-income communities, people of color, elderly, disabled, or people living in rural communities. It is untenable that nearly 20% of America’s citizenry lags behind their digitally connected counterparts, all because they can’t get online like everyone else. But that is the reality we face as nation, a situation that free data options – regardless of their genesis – may be able to solve.

FCC Making Considered Review of Free Data Plans on a Case By Case Basis

There is no one-size-fits-all offering for free data programs.  Thus far, the FCC has been wise in sticking to a consumer friendly “watch and see approach” to free data plans, which a variety of companies – ranging from large, Fortune 100 entities, to small start-ups trying to establish a new niche – currently use. Two of the biggest barriers to broadband (high-speed Internet) adoption are cost and relevance/awareness. Consequently, free data offerings give people the opportunity to experiment with new products and services and familiarize themselves with new platforms without incurring the cost of such use.

In cases where companies are testing how free data offerings jibe with their business objectives, we, as consumers, get to witness a win-win situation.  Those most in need of digital connectivity are able to access and use new internet products and services free of charge, and the companies sponsoring that use can potentially expand their customer pool.

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