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article imageFacebook's plan to give free Internet to the poor banned in India

By James Walker     Feb 8, 2016 in Internet
Facebook's Free Basics program, a plan to give people in developing countries free access to the Internet, has been banned in India amid concerns that it violates net neutrality regulations. Facebook has come under fire for prioritizing content types.
As Ars Technica reports, Free Basics is designed to provide users with free access to what Facebook sees as "basic websites." These are typically functional sites that provide people with enriching information such as popular news and media sites, healthcare services, employment agencies, educational media and limited communication facilities, particularly via Facebook itself.
"Free Basics by Facebook provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable," explains the company's website for the service.
"The websites are available for free without data charges, and include content on things like news, employment, health, education and local information. By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these websites, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives."
The plan may sound innocent initially but Free Basics has come under fire from net neutrality advocates who claim it prioritizes certain content over others and is unfair to publishers whose websites are not included. Although anyone can apply to have their site classed as a "free basic," Facebook's restrictions ban certain services that use a lot of bandwidth, restricting access to streaming sites and download providers.
Today, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) passed a new rule that prevents Facebook partnering with telecoms providers to offer Free Basics. Under legislation that forbids charging "discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content", Facebook will be banned from making only certain sites free to use.
TRAI noted that Free Basics could allow mobile operators to "shape the users' Internet experience," making them loyal to the services available for free. Because many of these people will access the Internet for the first time using the platform, it is possible their experience of the entire web would be shaped "only by the information made available through those select offerings."
Facebook said it was "disappointed" by the ruling. The New York Times reports it said: "Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, nonexclusive and free platform. While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the Internet and the opportunities it brings."
Free Basics has been available in India for several months now after launching last year. It is currently offered through Reliance Communications, a local network provider that Facebook has partnered with. The company will now be forced to suspend its operations since its concept has been outlawed.
It isn't just India that Free Basics is under fire in. A recent report published by the World Bank investigated the service and concluded it appears to be the "antithesis of net neutrality", potentially capable of artificially driving Internet users in emerging countries towards Facebook and the websites that fall under its definition of "basic."
More about Facebook, free basics, Internet, Net neutrality, India
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