India Bans Facebook’s Free Basics, Upholds Net Neutrality

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided to ban differential pricing on data in the country.

…TSPs are prohibited from offering different tariffs based on the content, service, application or other data that a user is accessing or transmitting on the internet. Tariff for data services cannot vary on the basis of the website/application/platform/or type of content being accessed. For example, a : consumer cannot be charged differently based on whether she is browsing social media site A or B, or on whether she is watching streaming videos or shopping on the internet.

Differential tariffs being offered for data transmitted over closed electronic communications networks, such as intranets are not prohibited by these regulations. Though the prohibition on discriminatory pricing of data services does not apply to such networks, which are not accessing the internet, if such a closed network is used for the purpose of evading these regulations, the prohibition will nonetheless apply.

The immediate casualty of this decision is Facebook’s Free Basics, formerly Facebook launched this program to offer certain websites and services for free to users in partnership with Reliance, a telecom major in the country. The company also asked users in India to allow it to send a mail to TRAI in support of Free Basics, after TRAI released a consultation paper on this matter.

Protest against Free Basics in Bangalore, India

Protest against Free Basics in Bangalore, India

After criticism on its methods and intentions from several experts in the country, Mark Zuckerberg himself came out of paternity leave to write an editorial, in which he was shocked that the country could even think about denying the poor access to the Internet. Soon after, we also learned that TRAI wasn’t too happy with Facebook’s methods, which it considered violated the sanctity of a consultation paper.

TRAI directed Facebook and Reliance to suspend Free Basics in the country a few weeks ago and after this policy, the service should be stopped entirely. While TRAI doesn’t explicitly name Facebook or Free Basics, this decision affects it almost exclusively.

  Source: TRAI (PDF)
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