New Delhi: Social networking giant Facebook on Thursday pulled the plug on its controversy-ridden ‘Free Basics’ programme in India, days after telecom regulator TRAI barred operators from charging discriminatory rates for Internet access based on content.
“Free Basics is no longer available to people in India,” a Facebook spokesperson said. The service was offered in India in partnership with Reliance Communications and was earlier known as Internet.org.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has also slammed Free Basics saying such differential pricing modes are “plainly not acceptable” and Internet should not become a monopoly of few.
After month long consultations, triggered by the net neutrality debate, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India earlier this week barred operators from charging different rates for data access, dealing a blow to Free Basics and other such plans like Airtel Zero.
While Facebook had promoted Free Basics as a programme aimed at providing basic Internet access to people in partnership with telecom operators, critics slammed the service saying it violated the principle of net neutrality.
Launched in 2014, Facebook is running the programme across 17 countries.
The closure of Free Basics in India was announced on a day when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg distanced himself from controversial comments about the country made by the social media giant’s board member Marc Andreessen, saying they were “deeply upsetting” and did not represent the company’s thinking.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” Andreessen tweeted, immediately evoking a sharp reaction from Indians. Andreessen had quickly deleted the post and apologised through a series of tweets but the damage was done.