India’s telecom regulator has asked Reliance Communications to temporarily stop Facebook’s Free Basics service, just weeks before it announces a policy on net neutrality in India based on industry feedback of a recently-published consultation paper.
A senior official in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said Reliance Communications has submitted a compliance report saying that the service has been stopped after an order from the watchdog, a report in the Times of India said.
Reliance Communications is Facebook’s only telecom partner in India that offers a set of basic internet services free to its subscribers under the platform. But the controversial initiative has been criticised by experts, who say it violates net neutrality by splitting the internet into free and paid tiers.
The move from the watchdog can only be seen as a safety measure before net neutrality rules in the country get a direction before being framed.
On the brighter side for Facebook, TRAI is yet to decide on the net neutral aspect of Free Basics. According to an NDTV Gadgets report, Facebook gave the same response as always without clarifying anything in particular.
“We are committed to Free Basics and to working with Reliance and the relevant authorities to help people in India get connected,” NDTV quoted a Facebook spokesperson as saying.
However, it seems that Facebook will stop at nothing to push Free Basics in India.
Even after the submission of the compliance report, Reliance Communications seems to have kept the Free Basics platform live. The Free Basics platform is available to subscribers of the telecom company when they log into the website, leaving a question mark over the compliance to the regulator’s order.
Last week, the world’s largest social network set out to leverage the strength of those numbers to push its controversial Free Basics initiative — formerly Internet.org in India. As a part of this plan, Facebook ran a campaign, which sent notifications encouraging users to “send a message to TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India] to support digital equality”. With one click, Indian Facebook users could send a pre-written email to the TRAI with the subject “I Support Free Basics in India.”
It has also been running SMS, newspaper, and billboard ads to drive support for its Free Basics platform. The social networking giant has also asked users outside India to support Free Basics in the country which it later described as accidental and qualified it as a mistake.
Free Basics has been in India since 2014 and it pledges to provide free Internet for all especially across Asian, African and Latin American regions which are severely underdeveloped in terms of Net connectivity.