Facebook’s free internet service has been shut down in Egypt following the closure of the service last week in India, says a report from the Associated Press. Free Basics is part of Facebook’s initiative called Internet.org, with which the social network aims to bring internet access to developing nations.
Facebook hopes to resolve the issue soon
Facebook’s Egypt partner, telecom carrier Etisalat Egypt, made Free Basics available in Egypt two months ago. Since the launch, more than 3 million people have signed up for the service, and 1 million of them received access to the Internet for the very first time in their life.
In a statement to the Associated Press, the company said, “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” and that it hopes to “resolve this situation soon.”
In India, the service was shut down by the TRAI (the Indian telecom regulatory agency), but it is not known if the same is the case with Egypt also. There has been no comment from Etisalat Egypt on the matter.
Free Basics against net neutrality?
Under Free Basics, some of the websites which are basic to human needs are made accessible for free. These include Facebook and several non-Facebook websites. Some regulators and Internet activists argue that this violates the principle of net neutrality as it creates a “walled garden” that prioritizes some sites over others. Critics do not support the idea of cheaper or faster access to selected services by Internet providers and mobile networks.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does not think that Free Basics is in violation of net neutrality. He says that the service does not charge different amounts of money for different web services, but rather, it simply provides free access to certain websites and hence, is not violating open Internet rules.
In a Times of India op-ed piece this week, Zuckerberg wrote that Free Basics should be welcomed as an open platform “that will partner with any telco, and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim — falsely — that this will give people less choice.” Referring to critics, Zuckerberg said they need to recognize that Free Basics fully respects net neutrality, but instead they are falsely claiming the exact opposite.