Updated 12/30/2015 12:00 p.m. (PT) by Saqib Shah: A mere week after India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority ordered a block on Facebook’s Free Basics service, Egypt has followed suit.
No further information from Egyptian authorities is currently available, although Facebook had the following to say on the matter to the AP: “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt. More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.”
The social network added it aims to resolve the situation soon. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has staunchly supported his company’s Free Basics service. Just two days ago, he penned an op-ed in the Times of India attacking critics of the initiative.
Opponents of the scheme cite net neutrality concerns and Facebook’s monopolization of the Web in developing countries, such as India and Egypt.
Updated 12/23/2015 5:15pm by Saqib Shah: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked mobile network provider Reliance to stop the Free Basics by Facebook service. It seems the social network was correct in its assumption that some form of restriction to its free mobile Internet service was imminent, which led to the petition detailed below.
It is thought that the temporary ban will be in place until the net neutrality issue is resolved in the Indian Parliament. Referring to Facebook’s initiative, an Indian government official stated the following to the Times of India: “The question has arisen whether a telecom operator should be allowed to have differential pricing for different kinds of content. Unless that question is answered, it will not be appropriate for us to continue to make that happen.”
For its part, Facebook claims that it is still committed to the Free Basics initiative.
Original text: Facebook has come under fire in the U.S. over an already contentious issue regarding its Free Basics program in India.
The service — which was launched in several Indian regions last month — is a partnership between Facebook and the Reliance mobile network to offer people, who otherwise can’t afford cellular data, access to selected online services at no charge via a free app.
However, as the Indian government prepares to debate net neutrality in Parliament, Facebook — sensing danger — has been asking its users to sign a petition addressed to India’s telecom regulatory authority backing the service. Now it seems it has controversially extended that petition to its U.S. and U.K. users too.
As some of you may have noticed on your feeds, the ‘I support Free Basics in India’ notification contains an automatic message proclaiming the user’s support for Facebook’s “digital equality” initiative. Facebook already has a huge user base in India, which begs the question why would it risk politicizing its users outside of the country — in particular regarding an issue that they hold no sway over?
According to Facebook, a “mistake” on its part caused the notification to be turned on for a short period of time to users outside of India, reports Recode. Accidental or not, the move risks creating further backlash for the initiative.
Opponents of Free Basics argue that the principle of net neutrality, which calls for Internet service providers to provide equal access to all content sources, is paramount. They contend that this principle supersedes providing India’s poor with their initial access to the Internet.
Whatever the merits of the two arguments, Facebook’s methods are drawing objections. U.S. users are already criticizing the firm’s actions on Reddit, with some warning that the petition auto-signs if you press the ‘scroll down’ button. Others have questioned the morality behind Facebook’s use of its own site to participate in the politics of a country in which it operates.
Since the launch of Facebook’s initiative in India, an online petition against zero-rating services, such as Free Basics, and in favor of net neutrality has been signed by 340,000 people in the country. Additionally, the scheme itself came under fire when it was claimed that its earlier iteration, entitled ‘,’ blurred Facebook’s involvement in the program. Consequently, it was renamed ‘Free Basics by Facebook.’