Programmatic Lunch

India's Net Neutrality Ruling Outlaws Facebook's Free Basics

Tim Maytom

free basics poster indiaIndia has introduced new laws that prevent internet service providers from having different pricing policies for accessing different parts of the web, a move which enshrines the principles of net neutrality in Indian law, but will come as a setback to Facebook's plans to roll out its Free Basics service in the country.

The new rules come following a two-month long consultation process, during which Facebook launched a large advertising campaign aimed at supporting its Free Basics program, which operates in over 35 developing markets.

During the campaign, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India criticised Facebook for encouraging the public to demand access to its Free Basics service, a move which saw the regulatory body receive more than 2m messages, the vast majority of which were identical.

The Free Basics service, which developed from Facebook's Internet.org initiative, offers customers pared-down internet services on mobile phones free of charge, and includes access to both Facebook's main app and its Messenger service.

While the program has been adopted in a variety of developing nations, net neutrality advocates have criticised the initiative for working against the principles of a free and open internet by favouring certain services over others.

The ruling will come not only as a blow to Facebook, but also to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has forged a close relationship with the company. Modi has previously met with Mark Zuckerberg when the Facebook CEO visited India, and taken part in a Facebook town hall-style Q&A while in the US.

Facebook is not the only large company who has come under fire this week for so-called "zero rating" certain services. Verizon has been criticised for not charging customers for data consumed while using its go90 video service, thereby creating an unequal playing field. The company, which revealed the move on Friday, has been accused of trying to circumvent US net neutrality laws which came into effect a year ago.