In a boost to net neutrality, Facebook has decided to shut down its controversial ‘Free Basics’ programme in India, following telecom regulator TRAI’s move to bar operators from charging different rates for Internet access based on content.
In a latest decision TRAI has ruled against differential data pricing tied to content services from telecos and others effectively ending zero-rating platforms in India. Zero-rating platforms provide access to some websites for free. Facebook’s Free Basics is an example and the company had tied up with Reliance Communications to launch the program in India. Now the TRAI ruling means that the end of Free Basics in India.
Government agencies agencies including the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) spent several months over the past year trying to assume a stance on net neutrality principles. While it was doing so, the TRAI ordered mobile carrier Reliance to block Free Basics last December. Facebook reportedly spent over $44 million on an ad campaign to garner citizens’ support for the service.
Facebook had met with severe criticism for its programme, which aimed at providing basic Internet access to people in partnership with telecom operators.
Critics saw this as violation of the principle of net neutrality that states that entire Internet should be available to everyone on equal terms as Free Basics allowed access to selected websites.
Free Basics isn’t completely dead: it’s still operational in more than 30 other countries across the globe. However, the TRAI’s ban in an effort to uphold net neutrality principles, along with Facebook’s decision to pull the plug on its zero-rating service today may well have a ripple effect on Free Basics’ future around the world.