Facebook shuts down Free Basics in India after TRAI ruling
New Delhi : Following the TRAI ruling which barred operators from charging differential rates for use of Internet, Facebook has shut down its controversial Free Basics project in India. This move came in, after a massive campaign done by Facebook for Free Basics, failed to gather support from Indian regulatory TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), for net neutrality. The basic design of Free Basics project, wherein — charging different rates for Internet access based on content — did not find a support hereon from the regulatory agency.
TRAI on Monday announced penalty slabs, on a daily basis of Rs. 50,000, and it saw a direct impact on RCom-Facebook duo, as Reliance Communication (RCom), which was running the Free Basics service in India in association with Facebook, decided to wind up the service. Facebook, after facing a major setback to its ambitious campaign-led Free Basics, decided to call it off, finally. A Facebook spokesperson told media — Free Basics is no longer available to people in India.
Facebook had met resistance in India from ‘net neutrality’ supporters, who argued that — because Free Basics had a limited access to selected websites — it violated the basic principle of entire Internet’s availability to everyone on equal terms. The service was available in India via RCom but had faced challenges in December after Trai ordered its closure pending its verdict on differential pricing.
Monday brought about TRAI’s ruling, declaring differential pricing unacceptable. TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma had announced the verdict at a press conference on Monday, saying — Today we have come out with a regulation that essentially mandates no service provider shall charge differential pricing on basis of application, platforms, websites, or source. No ISP can enter into any arrangements based on discriminatory pricing.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had reacted immediately to TRAI’s verdict, saying — Connecting India is an important goal we won’t give up on, because more than a billion people in India don’t have access to the Internet.
Facing a setback in India comes as a major blow to FB’s Free Basic project. However, despite its shutdown in India, Facebook’s Free Basics project will continue to operate in around 30 countries across the world.