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India bans Facebook free internet services

The world’s largest democracy has finally taken a stance on free internet services. This comes after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Monday banned all internet service providers from offering discriminatory tariffs for data services based on content.

On grounds of net neutrality, Facebook’s Free Basics programme has also been banned.

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In collaboration with specific telcos, Facebook’s Free Basics programme provides free-of-cost access to basic websites through an app. It’s part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative which aims to reach 4.5 billion unconnected people on the internet. Some of the free websites include information on local government services, news, health, education and, of course, Facebook. Other services are AccuWeather, BBC, ESPN and UNICEF.

Head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg wrote the following in response to the TRAI decision:

While we’re disappointed with today’s decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet.

By partnering with strategic telcos in emerging markets, the Free Basics programme is currently active in 38 countries. This includes South Africa where Facebook has partnered with the country’s third-largest mobile operator, Cell C. The telco also provides low-cost data bundles for customers using WhatsApp — one of the OTT services that has recently come under a lot of fire from Vodacom and MTN.

Read more: Petition launched to save WhatsApp from OTT regulations

Chile, alongside the Netherlands, have become the first countries to introduce laws protecting net neutrality. Introduced in 2010, the law dictates that internet service providers must offer internet access in which the content is not arbitrarily treated differently based on its source or ownership. Therefore also killing off access to free services such as Facebook and Wikipedia.

Read more: Facebook, Airtel launch Free Basic services in 17 African countries

The TRAI argued that its decision to embrace net neutrality should be followed in example around the world:

As the country with the second largest number of internet users worldwide, this decision will resonate around the world. It follows a precedent set by Chile, the United States, and others which have adopted similar net neutrality safeguards. The message is clear: We can’t create a two-tier internet — one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open web.

Image via ntvbd

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