Facebook pulls out Free Basics from India
Social media giant Facebook finally pulled the plug on its controversial zero-rated platform `Free Basics’ in India, days after telecom regulator Trai rejected differential pricing on data and a few hours after Reliance Communications (RCom) – its mobile partner in the country – decided to make the service paid.
“Free Basics is no longer available to people in India,” a statement issued by the company’s spokesperson said. Ironically, the statement comes exactly a year after Free Basics service was started in the country in its previous avatar `internet.org’ by RCom and Facebook.
Withdrawal of the project, one of the key initiatives of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, comes after the company had unleashed a high-pitched campaign in support of the service, though unsuccessfully.
The social media company was accused of being against the concept of net neutrality by activists across many countries and Trai called differential tariffs discriminatory . “The final straw was the stand taken by RCom to make the service pay . There was no other option left, especially as the company had to follow the law of the land,” a source told TOI.
TOI was the first to report about the regulator’s stand on differential tariffs, in its edition dated January 30, and also about RCom’s decision to put a charge on Free Basics in Thursday’s edition. The source said that top honchos at Facebook, mainly at the company’s headquarters in the US, did not find any merit in carrying the service as a paid platform, as its stated objective is to connect the non-connected without any charges.
An estimated 10 lakh people are believed to have opted for the Free Basics platform on the RCom network. Facebook had also thrown open the Free Basics platform as a paid version across various telecom networks in the country , which has also been stopped now.
The Free Basics platform had been initiated by Facebook as a philanthropic activity as it wanted to provide free basic internet connectivity to the unconnected across Asian, African and Latin American regions.The company has partnered more than a dozen mobile operators across 19 countries to provide the free platform. The platform provides connection to a select websites for free, and these include content on things like news, employment, health, education and local information.
While Trai had asked RCom to keep the service in “abeyance” around December last year till the time it took a decision on differential pricing, the platform had also faced criticism from a committee of the telecom ministry.