Facebook India: Facebook’s Free Limited Internet Access Program Stays Banned, Following the TRAI Decision
Facebook have been struggling to establish its free internet program in India for months. India regulators, specifically Telecom Authority of India (TRAI) banned the program last year, and the social media company has been trying to convince the authorities to permit the free limited internet access program.
The TRAI banned the program over concerns of internet neutrality and differential pricing. According to Forbes, different carriers charge discriminatory prices for different kinds of digital data, and others are free to access. The free service allows users to access some selected local news, the BBC, Wikipedia and selected health sites.
According to the BBC, TRAI had been investigating the terms of the free internet program, called the Free Basics. TRAI look into the program and discuss whether any online content should be prioritized over others, so that the Free Basics program could be justified. The authority body finally come up with the decision. "No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content," the TRAI stated.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, also the initiator of this program, stated that the company was disappointed with the outcome and that they will continue their efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet.
Previously, Facebook had also started a campaign to help convince the authorities to lift the program ban. The social media urged its users to send TRAI a letter from a template, explaining the benefits of the free internet program. However, the TRAI didn't give a positive response but instead was disappointed with the company's move and consider the campaign inappropriate.
The Washington Post reported that India has 300 million mobile internet users. Even so, there are still about 1 billion people without proper internet access due to poverty or other demographic situations. However, the country has more than 130 million Facebook users, the number that comes second after the United States.
Facebook saw the country as a potential base to increase its user base. Even after the TRAI first asked Facebook to discontinue the program, Facebook was still trying to push the program into India with a partnership with telecom operator Reliance Communications, whereas the operator users can still enjoy the Free Basics program.
The TRAI stated that with this decision, anybody violating the order will be fined for about $735 a day. This decision will fully ban the Free Basics program in India. However, Facebook had also announced that they will not stop with their efforts to make the program happen in the country.