Facebook’s Free Basics program, or Internet.org, has been controversial, to say the least, in some areas. Mark Zuckerberg’s idea to provide free internet to developing areas that would otherwise have none has taken off in some areas, but in India, it’s managed to garner the attention of Net Neutrality activists and, eventually, the Indian government. Since Free Basics provided some basic internet services for free, particularly those that wouldn’t cost Facebook much in bandwidth or would bring them some income, such as their own site, it violated applicable Net Neutrality laws. As such, the government eventually ordered the service to be shut down. In an emailed statement to the Times of India on Thursday, a Facebook representative confirmed that Free Basics was “no longer available to people in India…”
Recently, after a ruling of unfair pricing by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Free Basics had ended up having to become a paid service, defeating the main point of its existence. Reliance Communications, India’s largest telecom and the sole distributor of Free Basics in India, made the call, leaving little choice for Facebook. Eventually, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, after asking Reliance Communication to hold off on the service until it was cleared, determined that Free Basics could not be offered as it currently is, by applicable law. Reliance Communications has yet to issue any kind of official comment regarding Facebook shutting the service down in India.
The Free Basics service allowed access only to certain sites, although the access was meant to be free. According to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the service was meant to tend to the billions of people across the world that would otherwise have no connection to the internet at all, but Net Neutrality activists have criticized its “walled garden” approach. In essence, some areas would be given a choice of Facebook’s internet or no internet at all, leaving a bad taste in regulators’ mouths. The service could be modified and offered again in India at a later date, but it would require a complete overhaul, likely involving a significant investment of time and money. At this time, Facebook has not announced such a venture as even a possibility.