Facebook has shutdown its Free Basics app in India days after TRAI ruled against differential pricing of data services and content. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Free Basics is no longer available to people in India.”
TRAI’s ruling essentially meant that the Free Basics app, launched in India in partnership with Reliance Communications and offering some websites and services for free, is now illegal in India. An earlier report claimed Reliance was planning to make Facebook Free Basics paid in India. Facebook’s statement, however, ends all such speculation.
Facebook Free Basics, which is now part of Internet.org, offered access to select websites for free in India. The developers of these sites had to comply with technical conditions set by Facebook in order to be eligible for the app. The company said it did not charge any developer for the same.
Facebook had pitched Free Basics as a ‘pro-poor’ internet access app in India, a claim that did not go down well with Net Neutrality activists, who opposed it.
Facebook’s Free Basics ran into trouble after TRAI launched a paper questioning whether differential rating plans for data services around content should be allowed in India. TRAI had then asked Reliance Communications to put the app on hold till a decision was taken on the same.
After the paper’s introduction, the social media giant went on an advertising blitzkrieg to save Free Basics, and even launched an online campaign urging users to supports the app. Mark Zuckerberg himself issued an appeal in the form of a blog and a video, calling Free Basics a program that could help connect the poor.
But Facebook’s tactics didn’t win favour with all, and Net Neutrality activists in particular accused the social media giant of trying to dominate the debate. SaveTheInternet.in activists started their own letter campaign against Free Basics.
TRAI itself was not impressed by the responses it got from Facebook’s save ‘Free Basics’ petition, and felt that the answers given did not correspond to the questions the paper had raised. It should be noted that the paper did not mention Free Basics or any other zero-rating platform.
TRAI said that the way the Facebook campaign was carried, could be ‘dangerous’ to future policy discussions in the country.
Zuckerberg said that while he is disappointed with the ruling, the company will continue with its mission to connect more people. In a post on Facebook, he wrote that the scope of Internet.org was much more than just Free Basics app.
The Facebook’s CEO post reads, “ We launched Internet.org with so many different initiatives — including extending networks through solar-powered planes, satellites and lasers, providing free data access through Free Basics, reducing data use through apps, and empowering local entrepreneurs through Express Wi-Fi. Today India’s telecom regulator decided to restrict programs that provide free access to data. This restricts one of Internet.org’s initiatives, Free Basics, as well as programs by other organizations that provide free access to data. 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.”