Facebook's Free Basics Banned For Good In India

Facebook's Free Basics Banned For Good in India

Late last year, the Indian government temporarily banned Facebook's free Basics program over net neutrality concerns. Now, it's banned for good. A new regulation issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India bans more than just Facebook's offering: The ruling bans zero-rated internet services altogether. In simpler terms, that means that services which allow users access to some apps and sites without using up any of their mobile data allowance are now no longer allowed.

Last year, Indian net neutrality activists argued that Free Basics was a way for Facebook to shape internet access. Which is true. Zuckerberg & Co. countered that it's actually a way to connect people who may otherwise not have internet access. Which is also true!

But Facebook's claims to be some kind of charitable foundation, tossing internet this way and that to the needy, don't seem to hold much sway with Indian officials. In the new ruling, the Telecom Regulatory Authority writes plainly that "no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content".

And with that, Facebook's Free Basics is dead in India.

For its part, Facebook will be disappointed: It's spent a lot of time, money and effort trying to roll out the scheme in India. And it's already had to shut down a similar scheme in Egypt.

All of which suggests that while providing internet to those without it is undoubtedly a good thing, doing so while providing only access to your own software and services doesn't wash in the slightest. Time to try again, Facebook.

[Telecom Regulatory Authority of India via BBC]

Image by AP



    Lol, love that India is more on the ball with this new age issue than Australia ever has been.

      I completely understand a desire to see paid internet service prioritize traffic equally.

      But telling providers that they cannot provide limited free services, seems loony beyond comprehension.


      This appears analogous to saying I can't give a beggar a cheeseburger because it's not a balanced nutritional meal.

        No it's not. It's more akin to saying that you can't build a highway system that only links people to their closest McDonald's store (or to other stores who pay you, the owner, a premium) and prevents people from using it to get anywhere else.

          I love this roading analogy, let's pursue it!

          Farmer Jones opens a petting-zoo.

          The main entrance is off a toll-road, so to boost attendance he let's people reach his petting zoo via his cattle-race (bypassing the toll road).

          Please point to the evil bit for me...

        It's an interesting problem. If it was just a free service piggybacking on the internet not "the whole internet" it'd probably be ok. But people are already seeing Facebook as "the internet" (http://qz.com/333313/milliions-of-facebook-users-have-no-idea-theyre-using-the-internet/) so they become unaware of other sites and content outside FB's curated garden. Which leads to what That_Guy_ said.

        Bearing in mind that FB still makes money on the deal (YAY Advertising!) it's not like they're acting altruistically. If they were they'd make free internet access where you could go outside FB if you chose.

          So, the harm is that poor people with no previous internet access can get facebook?

          I still don't perceive the harm, and I'm honestly keen to understand it, but nobody seems able to describe it.

          If there really isn't a decent reason, then the Indian government is just shitting on their poor...

            The harm is that facebook is not internet despite what many people think.

            The harm is that you're getting curated news and information. One could argue that existing news sources are biased but they're less biased than facebook. Look at a prevalence of stupid S**t that FB propogates, from the harmless but annoying (click like to show you support this kid with cancer) to the outright dangerous (antivaccers).

            And that's before you get to the fact that FB is still making money off the people with it's so called free offering. Consider FB offering say Kaspersky as the best AV solution because they are paid to do so. Doesn't matter if it is or isn't that's what will be promoted to these people. And you won't be abl to go to AV Comparitives or similar to actually research the truth.

            Same with *anything* that they choose to advertise or conversely to blacklist. Look at it from a political perspective, if FB doesn't like a certain politician or party they could basically hide all content from/about them while pushing content for politicians that they approve of.

            It's social media being used as a social engineering tool. That is the harm.

    Your analogy doesn't allow for multiple other roads, all belonging to Farmer Jones, all "free" and all leading to places he chooses. So let's allow for that as well.

    Farmer Jones extends his road to other places people can go to. In order to extend his road though, Farmer Jones lets the other businesses know that they must conform directly with anything he says, otherwise he'll take the road away immediately.

    Farmer Jones now has a captive audience who he knows have no other option but to use his road. He will never allow any other petting zoos to use his road. He uses this influence to start advertising lightly to the crowd, then more heavily. Soon he starts pushing his political agenda to the crowd, ensuring that he provides only one point of view.

    He always makes sure to paint himself in a positive light. After all, farmer Jones is a generous god, he's built a roadway for all these people for free!

    Soon Farmer Jones finds that multiple news agencies are reporting on his use of slave labour and animal cruelty. He's not concerned though, nobody who uses his free road will ever find out about it. He alone controls the information that people get while using his road to get to his petting zoo.

    Farmer Jones starts talking to the businesses and tells them that, depending on how much they pay him, he'll make it easier for people to get to their business. If they pay him enough, he'll even make sure that no other businesses that compete with theirs will be allowed on the road.

    After this the government finds out that he's been cheating his taxes and overall being a very bad man. They decide to prosecute him. Farmer Jones' media tells the people who use his free road that the man in charge of the government is a pedophile and will kidnap their children from their beds. (The people who use his free road have no alternate viewpoint because all the other places they visit must deliver the same message as Farmer Jones. The businesses who didn't lost their access to the road.) Now the people are outraged, how could they have been fooled into allowing such a horrible man into their government? They decide they should do something about this. Luckily Farmer Jones has been telling them about a great new politician who will be great for them and will also let Farmer Joe make even more roads so that more people can get to his petting zoo!

    Enough of the (poorly worded, hastily thought-out and full-of-holes) analogy. I sincerely hope that you can see that the issue isn't "giving people free stuff is bad", it's simply a matter of protecting net neutrality.

      Thanks, you explained it well! I think I finally get it.

      The concern is that a small neutrality imbalance is basically frictionless, so it's a wedge which can easily be used by commercial methods to make ever larger imbalances. As the capture inevitably becomes stronger, the potential for abuse increases.

      I see the problem clearly.
      But somehow I still feel sorry for those very poor Indians who were using their free Facebook to seek jobs and make friends and improve their lives. I wonder if there's a way of wedging Facebook's wedge, rather than prohibiting it.

        Thanks! My analogy doesn't really properly describe the whole scope, but it's a basic start of understanding the issue. If you're interested in the issues this can cause, I strongly recommend looking up more information on net neutrality.

        As for the way of wedging Facebook's wedge, the Indian government is doing exactly that. They're not stopping people from giving away free internet, the wording only stops people from giving away free limited internet.

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