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Elasticity

Facebook "Free Basics" Curtailed in India Over Net Neutrality Dispute

Indian telecom regulators have halted Facebook's Free Basics program while net neutrality issues are sorted out.

[Photo: Flickr user Travis Isaacs]

Indian telecom regulators have reportedly halted Facebook's "Free Basics" mobile Internet service, formerly known as Internet.org, over net neutrality concerns.

The controversial program allows mobile customers free access to a limited set of Internet services, including certain online shopping, employment and health sites, Wikipedia and, naturally, Facebook itself. While Facebook has said the program offers limited Internet access to more than 1 billion people, those who might otherwise have none, it's come under fire from net neutrality activists and others in the industry who say it limits users to a walled garden populated solely by Facebook's partners.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has asked Reliance Communications, Facebook's Indian telecom partner, to halt the service until it can weigh in on the net neutrality issues involved, according to a report in The Times of India Wednesday.

Facebook urged users to contact the telecom authority in support of the program this week, though the company took some criticism after reportedly accidentally extending the request to users outside of India and after some users said it was too easy to accidentally sign a Facebook online petition.

Facebook has said the outreach to overseas users was a mistake, and that it takes proper precautions to make sure nobody is credited as signing the petition accidentally.

The Free Basics program was reportedly criticized by a committee from India's telecom ministry earlier this year.

"Collaborations between telecom service providers and content providers that enable such gatekeeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged," the committee wrote in a July report, according to The Times of India.

A group within India'sparliament is also said to be studying the issue.

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