Monday, 11 January, 2016

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan Why Egypt And India Are Banning Facebook's Free

Zuckerberg fuels Free Basics vs net neutrality debate
Elliot Roberts | 08 January, 2016, 19:00

Facebook has mounted an aggressive campaign for Free Basics after a similar initiative known as was stalled after a fierce backlash from those who believe that the programme violates net neutrality.

"We're disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt", said Facebook in an official statement to the Associated Press.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has received 18.27 lakh responses to its consultation paper on differential pricing, its chairman R.S. Sharma said on Thursday, adding that analyses showed that a large number of them supported Facebook's Free Basics plans.

The Free Basics program was suspended in India earlier this month while the country's telecommunications regulator considered granting the service specific approval.

This selective access and favoring some apps and sources of information over others goes against the basic principles of Net Neutrality according to detractors who oppose Facebook's free basics.

Tech giants including Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of ecommerce major Paytm, have petitioned TRAI, the telecom regulator, to claim that differential pricing for Internet access would lead to a "few players like Facebook with its Free Basics platform acting as gate-keepers". The company did not reveal the reason behind the suspension of the program in the country.

The service, aimed at bolstering Internet connectivity in developing countries, reportedly served more than three million Egyptians. The deadline for comments on the paper was to end today. One of the mobile operators that have partnered with Facebook on this has put a hold on Free Basics due to what the critics are saying.

"In addition to being against net neutrality, the differential pricing models suggested by Trai prima facie also violate the regulator's own stated principles of intervening in pricing", said Subho Ray, the president of IAMAI. Airtel Zero initially started the whole net neutrality debate where it proposed charging users for calls made using mobile data, but fortunately, common sense prevailed and the network had to withdraw the plan following public outrage.

Several prominent Indian entrepreneurs and members of the tech community have spoken out against Free Basics, arguing that even for poor citizens, no Internet is better than a hand-picked and corporate-controlled web offering.