TRAI banned Facebook free basics in India

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The Indian Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its recommendations on the issue of differential pricing. The regulator has categorically said no service provider should offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data on the basis of content. The regulator will levy a penalty of Rs 50,000 a day capped at Rs 50 lakhs for discriminatory tariffs charged by service providers. This officially marks the end of services like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero.

The move is considered to be a major blow to Zero rating programs such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero, which have drawn flak for allegedly breaching the concept of net neutrality in India. It may be recalled that Facebook had done extensive campaigning for the Free Basics, which had also drawn ire from the Internet activists as well as the telecom regulator.

Facebook’s statement

“Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform. While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings,” a Facebook spokesperson told BGR India via an emailed statement.

In the meanwhile, the SaveTheInternet team also welcomed the TRAI decision on the issue. “The SaveTheInternet.in Coalition welcomes the TRAI’s regulation dated 8 February 2016 which is in favor of Net Neutrality, by putting an end to differential pricing services which would have allowed telecom operators to break the Internet and become gate-keepers and toll-collectors,” the pro net neutrality group wrote on its blog.

It remains to be seen what happens to plans that offer unlimited WhatsApp and other service for a fee that is separate from the regular Internet pack.