Indian regulator blocks Facebook’s free internet access plan

09 February 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

The Indian telecoms regulator has slapped down Facebook’s plan to offer free access to its social media services via certain operators, including Bharti Airtel.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said the move was because it upheld the principles of net neutrality, by which all services have to be given equal access.

Bharti Airtel launched a service called Airtel Zero in April 2015 but withdrew it after Trai opposed the move. Facebook has been promoting a service called Free Basics in a number of countries, but Trai’s move means it is less likely to be available in India.

Trai commented: “Telecom service providers will be prohibited from offering different/discriminatory tariffs based on content, service, application or any other data which the user is accessing or transmitting on the internet.”

The regulator is threatening fines of 50,000 rupees ($735) a day if operators contravene its ruling.

Trai chairman RS Sharma said: “Differential pricing is not in the interest of the consumers, the growth of the internet, and open and non-discriminatory internet.”

According to Business Standard, Facebook said: “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.”

Operators will be able to provide free access in times of emergency, including earthquakes and floods.