Facebook’s attempt to offer free internet access in India has been stopped by officials in the country.
Telecom providers in the country were instructed on Monday to charge the same price for all content, dealing a crushing blow to “Free Basics,” a Facebook initiative that had come under constant and harsh criticism from tech activists.
“Free Basics,” formerly known as Internet.org, provided limited free access to Facebook approved websites and apps.
Users in India could gain access to information about health, travel, jobs, and local government. However, only a handful of platforms were included in the service.
Facebook argued that while AccuWeather, Ask.com, Baby Center, Bing, Dictionary.com and Wikipedia, were included, other websites could follow the company’s approval process to also gain access.
Critics say the program violates the tenants of net neutrality, which stipulates that all Internet content and users should be treated equally.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg had fought back against these critics, arguing that the “Free Basics” platform was open to all software developers, had no advertisements and would help less fortunate users escape poverty.
“Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims — even if that means leaving behind a billion people,” the Facebook CEO wrote recently in the Times of India. “Who could possibly be against this?”
The block of free basics was issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The agency ruled that “differential pricing” could create an uneven playing field, stifle innovation and make it difficult for new players to enter the market.
“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 said in a statement.