Days after Indian Telecom Regulatory Company (TRAI) ruled against Facebook’s controversial ‘Free Basics’ project in India, the tech giant officially scrapped the service in the country. “Free Basics is no longer available to people in India,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an in an emailed statement on Thursday.
Last year, Facebook teamed up with India’s Reliance Communications Ltd. to offer subscribers free access to certain services, calling it an important step toward ensuring “universal connectivity.” However, Facebook soon encountered fierce opposition to the service from startup founders who expressed fears that they would be put at a competitive disadvantage, and internet activists who decried it as an attempt to undermine net neutrality — which calls for internet service providers to treat all content the same, regardless of the source.
Facebook had met a backlash in India from “net neutrality” advocates, who say, because Free Basics only allows access to selected websites, it violates the principle that the entire Internet should be available to everyone on equal terms.
In December, TRAI asked Reliance to stop providing access to Free Basics while it examined whether the service should be legal. And, earlier this week, TRAI issued regulations in favour of net neutrality ruling against differential pricing, stating that companies should not be allowed to “ shape the users’ internet experience” by providing selective access to services.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his disappointment with TRAI’s decision but said that the company was still “working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.” He said, “Connecting India is an important goal we won’t give up on, because more than a billion people in India don’t have access to the Internet.”
Despite its shutdown in India, Facebook’s Free Basics project will continue to operate in around 30 countries across the globe.