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Bangladesh bans zero rating of social media, ending Free Basics in the country


The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission on July 18 prohibited zero-rating of social media websites, online news portal bdnews24 reported. MediaNama obtained a copy of the order, available below. The move is a win for Net Neutrality in Bangladesh, but the regulator did not mention it as a factor in its decision — the BTRC said that providing social media for free was causing “unhealthy competition” and “used by dishonest persons to carry out unnecessary criminal activities”.

Bangladesh in 2017 created a licensing regime for online media, and passed a Digital Security Act in 2018, under which it detained a journalist and a columnist for “spreading rumours” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 4G internet access in Rohingya camps has been shut down since last September.

Zero rating in Bangladesh

As a result of this order, Facebook’s Free Basics, which provides access to a stripped down zero-rated version of this internet, is no longer active in Bangladesh. A Facebook spokesperson declined to provide a comment on the record. Grameenphone, a telco majority-owned by Norway-based Telenor, advertised a messaging pack that offered 20MB of WhatsApp data per day. Banglalink, another telco, also reportedly offered WhatsApp and Facebook for free in certain plans, while metering other internet usage normally. Robi, a telco that’s a joint venture between Airtel and Malaysia-based Axiata, also offered a WhatsApp-Facebook plan at 50 taka (₹44) for 1GB of data on those platforms. As a result of Saturday’s order, these plans will have to stop.

Aside from India, Net Neutrality regulations have not been implemented in South Asia. Nepal was consulting with TRAI in 2018 for regulations around Net Neutrality, but there has been no development on that front. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister voiced support for Net Neutrality in 2017, but zero rating of certain websites and services continues in the country.

Read the order

Here’s the BTRC’s order provided to MediaNama by a source who wished to stay anonymous:

The BTRC’s July 18 order.

Here’s an English version of the order, translated by Torsha Sarkar of the Centre for Internet and Society:

Subject: Asking to stop the practice of telecommunication service customers being offered free social media related services

Communication [?]: Ministry of Information Letter Number –

In accordance of the above mentioned indicated subject and directed by the communication, it is hereby informed that recently it has been observed that telecommunication service providing operators, with the aim of attracting customers, are offering either partially or completely free services related to the social media, which is in turn, creating unhealthy competition in the market. These free services related to the social media are further being used by dishonest person to carry out unnecessary criminal activities.

In this situation, it is directed that you hereby stop offering such free services to all customers of your organisation [institution?].

The above mentioned subject would be applicable from July 15, 2020 onwards.

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