I can't speak to Facebook, et. al., but please don't lump Wikipedia Zero into your attack above, it's a very different animal. WP Zero is the brainchild of some very smart, idealistic people whose primary mission in life is to spread as much free information around the globe as possible, and that in turn is just a facet of a deeper ideal that information is empowering, and lack of information is oppressive.
Whose brainchild, specifically? I'm very interested in knowing. Because I think you'll find that the idea did not originate in Wikipedia, but that it was presented to them by others.
I know some of the individuals involved in the WP Zero movement from the get-go. These are the in-the-trenches activists. They physically went to these developing nations to examine the situation because they saw a disturbing trend in their own analytical data: the most oppressed people on the planet, who had the most to gain from free information, were not taking advantage of Wikipedia's free information as much as expected.
I hope you'll forgive my cynicism, but 'physically going' to the developing world teaches very little indeed about the broader truths of living in poverty. I say this having lived the last 11 years in a Least Developed Country, and having worked for half a generation with a parade of well-intended people who, to put it bluntly, haven't got a fucking clue, but who suck up all the oxygen in the room, making it impossible to get real, meaningful work done.
Do I sound bitter? Yes. I believe I've earned that right. Does that diminish my determination to work on real issues? Not one iota.
What they found on the ground was that in many of these developing nations, school-aged children and young adults had access to cell phones (but usually not tablets or home computers), and these cell phones had browsers and data capabilities, but the carriers are charging an arm and a leg for bytes of data over the cellular network, and that's why they're not surfing Wikipedia (or anything else much either).
Yes, and instead of helping to fight this phenomenon through better policy and changed attitudes among the global institutions, what we get instead is people perpetuating the problem by empowering the very telcos who prey on those children.
Let's be perfectly clear about this: asking telcos to make a special exception for one or two services is probably the worst possible response to the situation. It's short-sighted, it generates little real benefit, and worst of all, it creates the impression that people are actually doing something, when they're doing less than the minimum needed to move the development markers.
You can defend these people all you like. I still maintain that:
a) They were misguided and wrong; and
b) The basic idea was inspired and promoted by a number of very cynical individuals to a bunch of very naïve (if well-intentioned) people with little meaningful experience in actual development work.