Categories: Regulation

Facebook Loses Free Basics Battle In India

India’s telecoms regulator has moved to block Facebook’s Free Basics web service in the country, following the body ruling against differential pricing for Internet services.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said that Internet services in the country will not be allowed to discriminate on pricing of data access for web services.

Facebook’s Free Basics provides web services on mobile phones, as well as access to Facebook’s social media site and messaging for free.


But Free Basics critics argued that the free access to a select number of apps and services violates the ethics of net neutrality.

Facebook has been embroiled in a sour argument with TRAI over the last few months, following the social media giant sending out a call-to-action to its supporters, telling them to lobby TRAI to rule in favour of the free web service.

But now the regulator has ruled that operators cannot enter into any arrangement that is based on discriminatory pricing, unless they want to face a significant daily fine.

This effectively steers India’s telcos away from hooking up with Facebook’s Free Basics. TRAI’s ‘The Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’ rules that no provider should charge or offer discriminatory tariffs for data on the basis of content.

The regulations are effective immediately.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechWeekEurope: “While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings.”

In December, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s controversial free mobile service in India, after the service was suspended due to concerns that it gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage.

In an opinion piece published in the Times of India, the country’s biggest-selling English-language daily newspaper, Zuckerberg argued Free Basics is comparable to public services such as education and health provision.

“If people lose access to free basic services, they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the Internet today,” he wrote, giving the example of local farmers who used the service to access weather tools and commodity prices.

Critics, on the other hand, argued that Free Basics is comparable to the “zero-rate” services offered for free as a promotional tool by some telecommunications companies, and generally disallowed under net neutrality laws.

Also in December, Free Basics was been suspended in North Africa, after Egypt joined other countries in suspending the scheme.

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Ben Sullivan

Ben covers web and technology giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft and their impact on the cloud computing industry, whilst also writing about data centre players and their increasing importance in Europe. He also covers future technologies such as drones, aerospace, science, and the effect of technology on the environment.

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