Thursday, 31 December 2015


Zuckerberg's Free Basics On Hold Till At Least End Of January


Zuckerberg's Free Basics On Hold Till At Least End Of January
Free Basics, launched in more than 35 developing countries around the world, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, without any charge. (Reuters photo)
NEW DELHI:  India has become a battleground for Mark Zuckerberg's plan to roll out Facebook's Free Basics program with the telecom regulator or TRAI confirming that the plan is on hold till the end of January.

Free Basics, which Mr Zuckerberg, 31, says will bring free internet to millions of poor Indians through their cellphones, has been attacked by tech entrepreneurs and many others as designed to violate the principles of net neutrality, the concept that all websites on the internet are treated equally.

The program, launched in more than 35 developing countries around the world, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, along with access to the company's own social network and messaging services, without charge. But users have to pay for content that is not offered by the companies that partner with Facebook.

The program was launched in pilot stage 10 months ago in several states through mobile operator Reliance Communications. It was suspended last week on the orders of, RS Sharma, the chairman of TRAI. He told NDTV today that Free Basics cannot launch formally till the regulator completes its consultations with stake-holders, likely at the end of January. The regulator has given the public till January 7 to share feedback.

Tech giants including Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of ecommerce major Paytm, have petitioned TRAI, the telecom regulator, to claim that differential pricing for Internet access would lead to a "few players like Facebook with its Free Basics platform acting as gate-keepers".

"There is no reason to create a digital divide by offering a walled garden of limited services in the name of providing access to the poor," they wrote.

Mr Zuckerberg has got personally involved, arguing his company's case in an editorial inThe Times of India newspaper this week. "What reason is there for denying people free access to vital services for communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and women's rights?" he wrote. And Facebook has issued a series of full-page newspaper advertisements and set up billboard banners in an unusual and aggressive campaign to counter the protests.