Facebook’s Free Basics service has hit a major roadblock in India.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled today that cellular operators are required to charge the same price for all content.
The new law, known as the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, indicates that “no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.”
It goes on to say that; “No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tarlffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.”
That means Reliance Communications — which was partnering with Facebook via its internet.org program — will be unable to bring back the free basic Internet to Indian mobile customers.
Free Basics, the brainchild of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a program from internet.org, a global initiative to make Internet access available to five billion new households in underdeveloped areas by 2023.
Under Free Basics, users in Mumbai, Maharashtra and Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Chennai, and Kerala regions, were able to access Facebook and Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, Bing Search, Dictionary.com, Accuweather, BabyCenter & MAMA, Malaria No More and a number of local and international news organizations.
The problem, critics say, is that the plan violates the principles of Net neutrality by only offering select sites to users, a practice known as a ‘walled garden.’
Zuckerberg, however, has stressed that some free access is better than no access at all.
Facebook’s CEO penned an opinion piece, which was published by the Times of India in December, about the importance of the program. He described Free Basics as a “bridge to the full Internet and digital equality.”
“Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic Internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people,” he wrote.
“Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole Internet, they continue to claim – falsely – that this will make the Internet more like a walled garden. Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim – falsely – that this will give people less choice. Instead of recognizing that Free Basics fully respects Net neutrality, they claim – falsely – the exact opposite.”
Now that the TRAI has made its decision, it looks like Facebook will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to get India’s lower-income mobile users online.
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.