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Facebook stops offering Free Basics in India

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Facebook has stopped offering its Free Basics service in India. This move comes after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled earlier this week that no company can enter into any arrangement based on discriminatory pricing.

Interestingly, an ET report mentions that Reliance Communications (RCOM) will continue offering Free Basics, but as a paid service to conform with TRAI’s ruling. Note that we had reported last month that Free Basics was also available as a non zero-rated service on mobile web on telecom operators outside of RCOM. However, it’s not clear the service will continue to be supported as a paid service after Facebook backing out.

Essentially, Free Basics being available with all telecom subscribers as a paid service, RCOM or not, kind of makes it like a directory service like Yahoo, from where one could, once upon a time, navigate through the world wide web.

Facebook had been lobbying to get support for its Free Basics service in India since its launch. It launched multiple print, television, telephone and digital campaigns (see here and here), where it started placing ads in the middle of users’ timelines on mobile apps. When clicked, users were redirected to a Change.org petition which asked people to support Free Basics.

Ruffling TRAI’s feathers: In December, the company’s latest campaign asked its Indian users to send an automated email to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) stating that they supported Free Basics. However, the TRAI told Facebook that its campaign was a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll” which did not answer the questions it had asked in its September consultation paper on Differential Pricing. The exchange of letters between TRAI and Facebook are a continuation from when TRAI said that it did not get responses in support of Free Basics in time.

Google’s exit: Readers would note that Google, which was previously listed on Free Basics, pulled out of the service. It had signed up for Internet.org in Zambia in July 2014, and according to a Facebook representative, had been live on the platform a month ago. The company did not state when it left the service but confirmed that it is no longer on the platform.

Disclosures: MediaNama has taken a strong position in favor of Net Neutrality and against price discrimination; Founder and editor of Medianama Nikhil Pahwa is a volunteer with the SaveTheInternet coalition.

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