India Kills Facebook’s Free Basics, Prohibits Discriminatory Tariffs

It is usual for Pakistani mobile phone companies to offer special data bundles with unlimited usage of specific internet services (such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc.) at a fairly low fixed price. Or even worse, they offer free unlimited usage of a specific service (such as Free Basics or internet.org). This is now not possible in India.

Details about India’s Ban on Facebook Free Basics

The Indian Telecom regulator has banned Internet.org, deeming the limited data service as discriminatory and against the principles of net-neutrality. With this development, Facebook’s Free Basics — a project that was designed to offer developing markets free access to certain (albeit limited) websites — is banned in the world’s second largest country.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said that its decision is based on feedback from eight service provider associations, 15 service providers, 42 organisations and institutions, and a limited number of individuals.

TRAI said that the decision is an effort to ensure that service providers will keep the internet open and non-discriminatory.

In Pakistan, Telenor and Zong are offering Free Basics to allow their customers free access to selected websites, while all of five operators offer special bundles (read discriminatory tariffs) for selected services.

We take a look at why this may be counterproductive in the long run.

Here’s Why Facebook Free Basics are Discriminatory

To understand that why TRAI has classified Free Basics or special bundles as discriminatory, let us take a look at the following scenarios:

Also Read: Internet.org: Philanthropy or Just False Advertising?

  • You are a small internet company and you run a social networking website. Now since Facebook is so huge, influential and has access to every officer in your country, it shouldn’t mean that 35 million Pakistanis be given free access to Facebook via free bundles but have to pay to visit your website. Doing so gives an unfair advantage to Facebook. Its discrimination plain and simple, and an unjustified practice.
  • You possess a political viewpoint that’s not carried by news websites affiliated with Free Basics. But then there’s another politician who is covered by BBC or other websites that are part of Free Basics, thus giving them an unfair advantage because their message is freely promoted across the country while you’re not given the same opportunity.
  • You own a job portal website such as Rozee.PK. Now ideally, you wouldn’t want to be in a situation where another job portal is favored and offered to millions of users for free with Free Basics, and Rozee.PK isn’t even included in the list.
  • More frustrating would be the fact that you can’t partake in the program because Facebook has the authority to approve or disapprove your application. What if the fate of anyone’s application was decided by a manager who, God forbid, didn’t like your accent or something?

We aren’t even talking about privacy issues or problems pertaining to control over billions of users’ mindset that could be manipulated by a single entity. Many think that that’s too much if control is given to one elite group of service providers.

Concluding Thoughts

In all fairness, those who support Free Basics believe that this way Facebook and mobile phone companies are trying to offer internet to the under-privileged class and making them realize the benefits that the Internet can offer.

But one also has to consider the other costs — by giving unfair advantage to Facebook and selected service providers — against such limited access to fully comprehend the cons and pros of Free Basics or special bundle offers for selected services.

We’ve seen countries like China, Japan and India prioritizing their local industry over international ones, and that has, in turn, enhanced their GDP. A ‘free’ service like Facebook Free Basics doesn’t afford that opportunity to home-grown startups and companies, hurting developing countries in the interim as well as the long run.

We believe Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has a case here to look into and follow a more structured and organized approach towards net-neutrality in Pakistan.

Tech reporter with over 10 years of experience, founder of ProPakistani.PK


  • Danish

    What problem they have if something is Free?

  • Pakora

    1st world problems in 3rd world economies. The ancillary benefits of access to internet over rule the competition concerns to local markets especially given the current internet penetration levels. I didn’t see anyone complaining once Telco’s started giving out freebies.

    • aamir7

      You can’t be cruel to a community — or call yourself righteous for being cruel — if they don’t complain.

      Anti-competitive practice is going to remain so even if no one isn’t complaining just because they are ignorant.

  • Danish

    Sorry to say but in my opinion, all the cases in scenario were lame.

    • Mainichi

      Nice counter argument.

      • aamir7

        Calling something lame without any reasoning isn’t an argument at all.

        • Mainichi

          I was being sarcastic lol

  • aaqib

    A simple thought that came into my mind after reading the article was to understand
    “Giving limited stuff “free of cost” VS not giving at all”

    To support my statement I would quote the example of companies that offer free games/ applications along with advertisement. Mostly users enjoy this facility compared to they block the access at all. There can be many other examples where end users enjoy free stuff.

    To conclude, no one should be given authority to deprive poor from free service just for the sake of someone’s business.

    • Mainichi

      It’s actually “Giving limited stuff free of cost with other businesses getting hurt” VS not giving at all”.
      And also in the example that you cited you forgot one very important aspect; by producing an ad-supported version of apps, the developers are not HURTING any other business/ app. All developers are free to explore the option of making their app free by including ads in them whereas in the case of Free Basics there is an approval/ rejection system controlled ENTIRELY by Facebook. (dont compare this to the approval rejection system controlled by Playstore/Google or AppStore/ Apple; they are completely different things) Just the fact that there’s an approval/ rejection system goes against Net neutrality.

      You have to look at the bigger picture.

  • Mainichi

    Good move by the TRAI. You cannot let the internet be policed by a single entity.

  • Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain

    Thank God the decision wasn’t taken by PTA. Aamir will bash the gov for doing this.
    koi deen emaan nhi iska

  • Abrez

    If your local companies can’t offer similar services, at least have a heart and patience to let others make a difference.

  • KWM

    Is this even available in Pakistan?
    As far as bundles are concerned, that is not discrimination, those are marketed on the basis of market demand. People use whatsapp, facebook, twitter and it helps them if they can get a bundle deal. The bundle is driven by user demand and not by FB or whatsapp etc.

  • Faheem

    There is no free lunch, ever.

  • Sajjad Sohail

    Freebasics should be openned for all internet or it is a nice idea to ban it for favouring a small number of websites and particularly fb and fb’s messenger only. Not allowing any other social network not even twitter and any other messenger competing with fb’s messenger. The goal fb trying to achieve is to kill competition against its services period.

  • Haroon

    10 12 Companies ko Chor k 2 3 lakh users ka Socho na, Users ko Agr Free Facebook Free WikiPedia or esi Services Milri han to users ka to faida ha na isme, Free Kuch b Miley Chorna kabhi ni Chaie, or ye bht hi galat baat ha k q k koi choti web afford ni kar skti free dena to facebook b free na de wah, like agr kisi Hospital me Free ka ilaj hora ha to wo free ka ilaj islie na karey k dusre hospitals jo Free me ni kr skte unko Nuqsan hoga.
    Very Good :D

  • Muhammad Zaman

    India has taken a decision in the best interest of their country.Pakistan is also facing an acute shortage of funds. On the one side, Pakistan is losing about a million dollar per day from the grey traffic and on the other side whats app, face book, Skype, face time etc are depriving Pakistan millions of dollars per day. Also there are no taxes on one billion messages which Pakistanis send every day. If PTA charges 10 paisa per sms and 10 per minute of international/national calls, I think we need not go to the IMF and beg.

  • Nadaan

    Gourmet se kuch hositals ko free khana jata hai. Tu kiys aisa nahin krna chahye isy kuen k baaki aisa nahin kr rahy.

    Mjhy baat smjh nahin ayi.