No good deed goes unpunished.

If Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had to describe his latest project, he'd probably choose that very idiom.

The social media mogul has been trying to roll out a program across the world that would provide internet connection to millions of poor and marginalised people. On the surface it seems like a benevolent act, albeit one that would benefit Facebook by securing more users for the social media service. But there is a seedy underbelly to the ploy described as "terrifying" and it has led to accusations that Zuckerberg is quietly trying to control the internet.

Facebook has been pushing a practice called zero-rating, also known as toll-free data or sponsored data. It involves the practice of virtual network operators (MVNO) and internet service providers (ISP) not charging customers for data used by specific applications or internet services through their network, in limited or metered data plans.

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It's not an uncommon practice and in Australia certain ISPs have deals not to charge customers for their data usage on certain streaming platforms such as ABC iView and Netflix.

Basically, Facebook has been teaming up with wireless carriers to offer its "Free Basics" program to low income and rural communities who don't have reliable home internet. It gives them free access to an app featuring services such as news websites, health information, job sites, and apps like Facebook and WhatsApp - and the social media giant picks up the bill.

It sound like an altruistic pursuit but the company has come under fire and already had two countries - India and Egypt - effectively ban Facebook's Free Basics program shortly after rolling it out.

This week The Washington Post revealed Facebook has been in secret talks with the White House and small wireless carriers about implementing the program in the United States. After the missteps overseas, the company is trying to introduce the program while avoiding the backlash.

If successful it would be a huge a win for Zuckerberg but it has sparked plenty of warnings from those claiming it goes against the fundamental openness of the internet and erodes the egalitarian notion of net neutrality, ultimately allowing Facebook to control the internet experience of some communities.

"The idea of this actually happening isn't just bad. It's terrifying," wrote Gizmodo.

When speaking about Facebook's Free Basics offer Aral Balkan, a human-rights activist said: "I wouldn't call it philanthropy, I would call it colonialism."

His choice of words was not accidental and it mirrored a very controversial tweet by venture capitalist and high-profile member of Facebook's board of directors, Marc Andreessen after India decided to effectively ban Facebook's Free Basic rollout.

"Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades," Andreessen wrote. "Why stop now?"

In an earlier tweet he wrote: "Denying world's poorest free partial internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong."

Indian regulators banned the app in February after consumer advocates argued it disadvantaged competing companies and non-profit groups that were not included on the platform.

The colonialism tweet (which was quickly deleted) caused a firestorm in the media and resulted in a long written apology from the Facebook CEO.

But the company hasn't been able to shake the suggestion. And there is no shortage of people opposing the push by Facebook.

"Zero-rating is pernicious, unfair and unnecessary," Harvard law professor Susan Crawford told The Washington Post.

It remains to be seen if the US approves the Facebook app but if it does get rolled out, which is very possible, it will no doubt usher in some heated debates in the country around internet freedoms and the preservation of an equal and open internet.