India blocks Facebook’s free internet scheme

09/02/2016

India's telecoms regulator has blocked Facebook's Free Basics internet service today, saying the scheme violates net neutrality.

While not ruling explicitly on net neutrality, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) decided not to allow what it called “discriminatory pricing” for different data platforms or content.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially launched the project to provide an "on ramp to the internet" for people in emerging markets, giving them access to things such as financial services and health information.

But the scheme has come consistently under fire from digital rights groups, with Facebook accused of violating net neutrality laws with a two-tiered internet service.

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Last month, 30 non-profit companies and net neutrality advocates in India wrote an open letter to Facebook, after TRAI paused the roll out of Free Basics.

The new ruling suggests that Free Basics, which was aimed primarily at people in poor rural areas, will not be allowed to continue in its current form.

“TRAI has today issued the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016′ that disallow service providers to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a consumer,” Sudhir Gupta, TRAI secretary, said in a statement.

“While formulating the regulations, the authority has largely been guided by the principles of net neutrality seeking to ensure that consumers get unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet,” Gupta said.

The policy may be reviewed every two years or sooner, TRAI said.


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