Facebook Strikes Out in India

Regulator prohibits the company's 'Free Basics' service
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2016 6:45 PM CST
Indian students gather for a protest against Facebook’s "Free Basics" in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.   (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

(Newser) – Facebook failed Monday in its attempt to provide millions in India with a free but limited mobile Internet service called "Free Basics," the Washington Post reports. After nearly a year of debate between Mark Zuckerberg, Internet activists, and software developers, India's telecom regulator ruled that no data service provider can offer a different price—even a price of zero. The ruling jibes with critics who say Free Basics violates the principle of "net neutrality" and provides a "walled garden" of Internet access for the nation's poor. Indeed, Free Basics combines limited versions of services like Facebook, job listings, weather reports, the BBC, and Wikipedia, Wired reports. But Zuckerberg argues that Free Basics, used by millions worldwide, is about bringing more people online.

"We know that when people have access to the internet they also get access to jobs, education, healthcare, communication," he wrote in a Times of India op-ed in December. "We know that for every 10 people connected to the internet, roughly one is lifted out of poverty." He also says Facebook doesn't profit because it places no ads in Free Basics. But Vijay Shekhar Sharma, a software developer and fierce Free Basics critic, calls the service "poor Internet for poor people" and compares it to British colonialism. "India, Do u buy into this baby internet?" he tweeted in December. "The East India company came with similar 'charity' to Indians a few years back!" Facebook says it plans to continue its effort to bring millions more people in India online. (Read more India stories.)

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