Indian Internet ruling blocks Facebook's 'Free Basics' plan

SAN FRANCISCO -- India's government has essentially banned a Facebook program that sought to connect with low-income residents by offering free access to a limited version of the social network and other Internet services.

See Full Article

The ruling is a major setback for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had lobbied hard for the program as part of a campaign to expand Internet access in developing countries. It's a victory for critics who argued that Facebook's "Free Basics" program gave unfair advantage to some Internet services over others.

Facebook has introduced "Free Basics" in partnership with wireless carriers in dozens of emerging nations, where the company hopes to get more people online. The service provides free access to a stripped-down version of Facebook and certain other Internet sites -- including some that provide essential information like weather forecasts, health education and job listings.

But the program has sparked debate in some countries, particularly India, where critics contend that "Free Basics" effectively steers users toward Facebook and its partners, while making it harder for other Internet services -- including homegrown startups -- to build their own audiences.

In a much-awaited decision Monday, Indian regulators said telecommunications providers may not charge different or "discriminatory" rates for delivering different kinds of Internet content.

The ruling essentially bans programs like "Free Basics" that are based on what's known as "zero rating" in industry jargon, because they don't charge for downloading certain kinds of data.

In a statement, India's telecommunications regulatory authority said its decision was "guided by the principles of net neutrality," or the concept that all websites and apps should be treated equally by Internet access providers. Net neutrality advocates contend that charging different rates based on content is unfair both to consumers and to Internet services that are competing for consumers' attention.

U.S. regulators endorsed net neutrality in rules enacted last year, but those rules don't specifically ban carriers from exempting some services from data limits. The Federal Communications Commission is now studying the zero-rating issue.

Facebook said in a statement that it's disappointed with the ruling but will continue its efforts to increase Internet access. "Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform," the company said.

Zuckerberg had campaigned hard for the program, making personal visits to India and publishing an open letter in at least one newspaper there. Facebook also responded to critics of "Free Basics" last year by creating a new platform for outside developers to contribute apps for the program.

Facebook has about 130 million users in India. But like other U.S.-based Internet companies, it sees a huge opportunity to expand by reaching the estimated 1 billion Indians who don't have Internet access.

"Free Basics" is part of a broader effort, dubbed Internet.org, in which Facebook has also tried to work with phone-makers on designs that reduce data usage and extend battery life. In addition, the company is working on long-range projects to develop drones and satellites that deliver Internet service to remote areas.

Zuckerberg has acknowledged Facebook's business would benefit from gaining more users around the world, but he's also argued that Internet access is a powerful tool for economic development and improving lives in low-income regions.

AP Technology Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • The race to space: Experts say 2018 will be the year space tourism takes off

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Space. The final frontier, and quite possibly your family's next March Break vacation. Experts say 2018 will be the year space tourism takes off. But while great leaps are being made at what seems like warp speed, it's a venture that's still fraught with issues that go far beyond its out-of-this-world price tag. Source
  • Genetic analysis reveals origins of dog breeds

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In the pages of human history, the paw prints of man's best friend are tracked all over. As companions, guardians, hunters and herders, dogs come in all shapes and sizes, evidenced by the enormous variety of breeds. Source
  • Giant, stinky flower blooms in Edmonton

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON -- The sweet smell of NHL playoff success isn't the only aroma that's exciting people in Edmonton. While fans of the Edmonton Oilers celebrated their team taking a 2-0 lead in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, a corpse flower known as "Putrella" bloomed at the city's Muttart Conservatory. Source
  • Waterton, Glacier parks get dark-sky designation

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WATERTON, Alta. -- A pair of sister parks straddling the border between Alberta and Montana have received a special designation. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, as the Canadian and U.S. parks are known, have received an International Dark Sky Park designation. Source
  • Robots boldly go where no one has gone before: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The robotic Cassini spacecraft that has been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years began its final and most daring observation of the ringed planet by diving down through a small gap between the rings and the planet itself, a dangerous move never attempted by a spacecraft before. Source
  • Trump administration wins victory in effort to roll back Obama climate change efforts

    Tech & Science CBC News
    At the Trump administration's request, a federal appeals court agreed Friday to postpone a ruling on lawsuits challenging Obama-era restrictions on carbon emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency had asked the court to put a hold on the case shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing officials to roll back the Clean Power Plan. Source
  • Facebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expert

    Tech & Science CBC News
    more stories from this episodeMeet the godfather of Canada's outlaw biker club, Satan's ChoiceWhat's life worth? Ken Feinberg on victim compensationFacebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expertFull Episode Serena McKay was just 19 when she was killed in Sagkeeng First Nation in northern Manitoba. Source
  • Facebook preparing to fight political propaganda

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Facebook is acknowledging that governments or other malicious non-state actors are using its social network to influence political sentiment in ways that could affect national elections. It's a long way from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's assertion back in November that it was "pretty crazy" to think that false news on Facebook influenced the U.S. Source
  • A robot that picks apples? Replacing humans worries some

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SPOKANE, Wash. -- Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. Source
  • Humpback whale babies 'whisper' to their moms to avoid detection by predators

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Newborn humpback whales "whisper" to their mothers to avoid being detected by predators such as killer whales, new research suggests. Never captured before, the baby whale call recordings were collected using tags placed temporarily on the whales by a team of ecologists in Denmark, Australia and Scotland. Source