Free Internet service for over 3 million Egyptians shut down

Jan 1, 2016
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Facebook has launched a massive campaign in support of Free Basics, which some say violates the principle of net neutrality, the concept that all websites on the internet are treated equally.

The final decision in this issue will be taken by TRAI by the end of January, till then it has asked Reliance – the sole telecom partner of Facebook in India – to put Free Basics on hold.

Facebook told the Associated Press it was working to resolve the situation.

Responding to a recent TRAI Consultation Paper deceptively titled “Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing”, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the largest representative body of internet companies in India, has said that the differential pricing violates not only principles of net neutrality but TRAI’s own stated principles of pricing.

Free Basics was unveiled in Egypt two months ago in tie-up with mobile carrier Etisalat.

“Either we get to consider our banking apps to be not “basic”, or risk exposing the financial information of all Indians to Facebook”. The move came after one regulator requested an investigation into Free Basics and whether it could threaten the future of net neutrality in India.

Facebook argues that the program introduces poor people to the Internet, with many later becoming paying customers to receive more Internet access.

However, the plan had a number of critics, including a group of leading Indian academics who highlighted a number of flaws that they say will curb internet freedom in the nation, putting it at odds with net neutrality.

The executives said in the letter, dated Tuesday, that differential pricing for Internet access would lead to a “few players like Facebook with its Free Basics platform acting as gate-keepers”.

“The first apparent flaw within the proposal is that Facebook assumes management of defining what a “primary” service is”.

On Monday, the weekday after Christmas, Zuckerberg lashed out against the critics for consistently spreading false claims even if that means leaving behind a billion people that need the internet just as much.

The consultation paper on differential pricing of data services raises concerns over zero-rating tariff models – a practice wherein service providers offer free data to users for select applications and websites.

The app launched in India – the second-most populous country on the planet – in February. As a result of this initiative, it will bring a lot more users to the internet, where they can access all content. However, this argument has not gone down well with net neutrality activists who are viewing Facebook as a threat to equal access to the internet.

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