Facebook’s Free Basics plan runs into trouble in India

Facebook's Free Basics

India has put Facebook’s Free Basics plan that offers limited internet services for free on hold until a final decision on the policy next month, reports Reuters.

The plan, launched in February in India in association with Reliance Communications, provides limited web services on mobile phones along with Facebook’s social network and messaging services.

Against net neutrality

Opponents say the plan is against net neutrality and puts small content providers and start-ups who are not part of it at a disadvantage.

Nine start-ups including PayTM and Zomato in a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) have for internet access without any differential pricing. They said differential pricing would lead to a “few players like Facebook with its Free Basics platform acting as gatekeepers”.

“There is no reason to create a digital divide by offering a walled garden of limited services in the name of providing access to the poor.”

Mark Zuckerberg has entered the ring arguing for the plan in an article published in one of the leading newspapers in India. Facebook has also taken out a series of advertisements to counter the opposition.

Facebook is looking to big markets outside the US to boost further growth. With just 252 million out of India’s 1.3 billion people having internet access, it’s a fertile ground for expansion.

“In a democracy you have both sides – you have Facebook spending so much on the campaign and on the other side you have internet activists making their own efforts,” Reuters quoted TRAI chairman Ram Sevak Sharma.

“Our job is to make a policy that is in the interest of telecom operators and end users in India.”

Not a smooth run

Free Basics, introduced in Zambia in 2014 and running in about 35 developing nations, hasn’t had a smooth run, with critics saying that it goes against the principle of net neutrality. On Wednesday Egypt didn’t renew the permit leading to the shut down of the service in the country.

(Image via Valuewalk)