Facebook kills Free Basics in India after TRAI rules for net neutrality

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 11, 2016 13:21 IST
The platform, which intended to provide low-cost connectivity to millions in the country, will no longer be available (Free Basics)

Facebook has finally pulled the plug on its Free Basics platform in India and the move comes even after founder Mark Zuckerberg’s statement to continue fighting for the platform after country’s telecom watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had ruled against differential pricing in turn banning the platform.

“Free Basics is no longer available to people in India,” a Facebook spokesperson was quoted as saying by ET .

The decision brings to an end a series of tussles between TRAI, net neutrality activists and Facebook. Just after the TRAI ruling, Reliance Communications (RCom) and Facebook had decided to make it a paid platform that also primarily defeated the purpose of providing low-cost or free-of-cost connectivity to millions of people in India. RCom was the official partner for Facebook to deploy Free Basics in the country.

The company along with making the platform paid had also made it available across other telecom operators without any arrangements as per the TRAI ruling. The platform also intended to charge consumers just for the data they consumed.

Read more: Facebook’s Free Basics becomes a paid service after TRAI ruling

While RCom didn’t confirm the decision, it had previously said that Free Basics would be available in a paid manner. “To be fully compliant with the new regulations announced by TRAI, RCom has already begun the process of re-configuring access to FreeBasics, from the current free regime to a chargeable one, as per the existing data plans of our customers,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying, pointing out that it will be billed as per a customer’s mobile internet or data plan.

The transition will be completed soon. “The extensive technical configurations involved will be completed in the next few days,” the RCom spokesperson said.

Read more: TRAI’s ruling on data tariff decoded: Pay only for what you use

Earlier, expressing disappointment on India’s decision on net neutrality, Facebook founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg has said he is committed to keep working to break down connectivity barriers in India and around the world. “Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet,” Zuckerberg said in a post on Facebook.

However, analysts had pointed out that Free Basics would shut down in the country. “This is a major setback for Facebook,” Naveen Menon, lead analyst at A.T. Kearney in Singapore, had said. “Not only because India was expected to be such a critical piece of the overall Internet.org success story, but more so because it has potential dangerous knock-on effects for the universal access initiative in other markets.”

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