Facebook India: Free Basics Internet Program Still Struggles Against India Regulators

By Staff Writer

Jan 26, 2016 02:13 PM EST

Facebook's Free Basics program is still struggling to establish its existence in India. The program was banned more than a month ago, and ever since the social media company has been striving to persuade the Indian authorities to lift the ban.

The program aims to bring limited internet use to as many people as possible, especially those who otherwise would not be able to afford the internet at all. The program was originally launched as Internet.org, and is now available in over 30 countries, despite the controversies it has raised. Many have claimed that the program violets the principle of internet neutrality because it offers only selected apps and services.

In India, the Free Basics program was launched last year alongside telecom operator Reliance Communications, as reported by CNBC. The Mark Zuckerberg-initiated program was available as a complimentary limited internet connection for Reliance customers. But apparently the program has yet to receive approval from Indian regulators, especially those who hold concerns about internet neutrality and carriers charging different prices for digital content.

According to CNET, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) requested that Facebook discontinues the Free Basics program until it provided over more information regarding the terms of the program. The request was issued in December. 

The social media giant responded to the request with its own Save Free Basics, where Facebook encouraged users to send their support of the program via email to the TRAI. The emails can even be sent directly through users' Facebook accounts, with a template message provided, explaining the benefits of Free Basics.

Last week, TRAI responded back to Facebook with a letter stating their disappointment with the company's move. They claimed that Facebook asked for support from users without elaborating precisely what they gave their support for. TRAI received 1.8 million responses from Facebook users, although Facebook claimed that users have sent over 16 million emails.

Even so, Tech Bits reported that TRAI Chairman R S Sharma has agreed to review all the relevant responses that seek to answer the questions they raised. TRAI has started a public consultation to decide on the matter.

However, TRAI is not the only organization to have expressed their concerns over Free Basics program. Dozens of internet rights groups also attacked Facebook and accused the social media of violation of internet neutrality. Until now, Facebook still has a long way ahead to establish its Free Basics service in India, as many other parties remain to be convinced.

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