Over the months of controversy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) finally banned FreeBasics, a zero-rated mobile service in the country, over Net Neutrality concerns. The Social Network giant was under fire and faced numerous criticism in India for violating the free internet usage policy.
India is the largest market for Facebook after the USA, and they are quite disappointed with the decision. The company has issued a statement in response to the ruling that it looks like it will continue to work on finding new ways of growing its service, despite this obvious setback.
“Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Amid criticism, Facebook tweaked changing the name from Inernet.org to FreeBasics last month and faced a temporary ban from TRAI in December last year. The authority’s press release notes that the ban will be in place for two years. The regulatory board will keep an eye on the issue, but the mandate may be open for review.
Facebook launched Internet.org in February 2015 in India in partnership with Reliance Telecom, and some other Indian companies like Flipkart and Airtel later joined in. An online campaign, “Save the Internet,” in which millions of users signed the petition over the Net Neutrality issue, has taken the program backstage.
The new mandate which the regulatory body outlined for FreeBasics and another such service will be penalized and will have to follow-
- a) No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
- b) No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
- c) Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
- d) Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified.
The decision is overwhelmed by the non-profit organization which campaigned for Net Neutrality. The ban of FreeBasics in India is a major setback for Facebook’s failure of their misleading campaign “Save the FreeBasics in India” – backfired after it sparked controversy.