Just days after Facebook went all out to expand its controversial Free Basics service in India, the country’s telecom regulator has temporarily suspended the service. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked Reliance Communications, one of Facebook’s partners, to temporarily stop offering Free Basics to its users, reports the Times of India.
Reliance Communications halts Free Basics
Reliance Communications confirmed that it had halted Free Basics until it receives “a specific approval” from TRAI. The move comes about a month before TRAI is expected to submit its report on Net Neutrality to the government of India. The regulator’s final decision, due next month, may force Facebook’s free and customized Internet service to undergo massive revisions if they want to keep operating in India.
Free Basics, a service under Facebook’s Internet.org, aims to bring millions of people from developing countries online. The Menlo Park-based social networking giant claims that Free Basics is a philanthropic initiative. But regulators, critics, and experts are of the opinion that Facebook’s hidden goal it to increase its user base so that it can serve them ads to make more money.
Facebook criticized for misleading users to support Free Basics
Free Basics is at the center of the Net Neutrality debate. India is the company’s largest market outside the US with 130 million monthly active users, and is expected to overtake the US soon. Earlier this month, Facebook launched an aggressive advertising campaign across Indian newspapers, television, and billboards to promote Free Basics and garner support from TRAI.
The Mark Zuckerberg-led company has also launched an email campaign. As soon as users log into their Facebook account, they are presented with an email form with a pre-written message in support of Free Basics. The company pushes users to send this pre-written message to TRAI. Experts and analysts, including Indian Internet entrepreneurs who might benefit from Free Basics, criticized the email campaign as misleading and heavy-handed.
Experts argue that Free Basics violates net neutrality by working with Internet service providers to direct traffic only to select sites and services. Free Basics is currently available in 36 countries.