India's TRAI Stonewalled Facebook Free Basics
India telecom regulatory authority TRAI has banned limited free internet access programs and essentially blocked Facebook's Free Basics in the country.
Facebook had launched a massive advertising campaign in its bid to explain that Free Basics will benefit the poorest in the country without internet access. Small businesses and Net Neutrality activists claimed that the social media giant was trying to create a walled garden, against the spirit of free internet.
The New York Times reported that Free Basics allows people free access to a limited number of mobile services including news, health, jobs and other content. Facebook had stated its aim to help about a billion Indians who are not connected to the internet.
In its orders directed against differential pricing, TRAI said that it was necessary to keep the internet open.
"Keeping in View India's large number of internet users and content producers, both of which are rising exponentially, the Authority has taken a view that prohibition of discriminatory tariff for data services is necessary to ensure that service providers continue to fulfill their obligations in keeping the internet open and non-discriminatory."
Analysts viewed the orders as major setback for Facebook and how it could have a ripple effect in other countries. Free Basics is offered in 38 countries.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed disappointed but said the company would continue its efforts to expand internet access to the poor in India.