India bans Facebook’s Free Basics service, citing net neutrality

8 Feb 2016

Advocates of net neutrality argue that services like Facebook's Free Basics would create a two-tier system

India’s telecoms regulator has banned services like Facebook’s Free Basics internet service because it is claimed they infringe upon the principles of net neutrality.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has ruled against packages that enable “discriminatory tariffs for data services” for different data platforms or content.

Net neutrality advocates argue that because Free Basics only allows access to selected websites it violates the net neutrality principle that the internet should be available for all on equal terms.

Critics allege that, by subsidising content, players like Facebook would be able to pick winners and decide what services users consume.

Back to basics for Facebook

The move comes as a blow to Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is the driving force behind, an effort to empower 4bn people by providing access to the internet.

Other critics have warned that Free Basics and movements like will “wall in” poor web users in a two-tier system.

Free Basics was blocked temporarily in India last December while TRAI considered its next steps. Once it resumed service, Facebook embarked on a $45m promotional spree for Free Basics in newspaper ads and on billboards.

“While formulating the regulations, the authority has largely been guided by the principles of net neutrality [and] seeking to ensure that consumers get unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet,” TRAI said.

“These regulations intend to make data tariffs for access to the internet to be content agnostic.”

Taj Mahal image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years