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India Blocks Facebook's Free Basics Internet Service (thestack.com) 137

An anonymous reader writes: India's leading telecom regulator, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), has today voted against differential pricing, ruling with immediate effect that all data prices must be equal, and that companies cannot offer cheaper rates than others for certain content. The call is a significant blow to Facebook's Free Basics (previously Internet.org) initiative and Airtel Zero – projects which work to make internet access more accessible by providing a free range of "basic" services. The watchdog confirmed that providers would no longer be able to charge for data based on discriminatory tariffs but instead that pricing must be "content agnostic." It added that fines of Rs. 50,000 – 50 Lakh would be enforced should the regulations be violated.
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India Blocks Facebook's Free Basics Internet Service

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  • Alternate title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoborrobots ( 577882 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:26AM (#51462027)

    Alternate title: "India insists on network neutrality"

    • First world problem.

      Network neutrality debates are all good and fine in the first world where we're being price gouged by telecoms for unequal access to data, but given that Free Internet Basics is effectively something where the alternative is nothing I would say lack of net neutrality should not hold this up.

      • They start with free Facebook. Hey it's free, so it's better than not having it!
        Next thing they will add Twitter and some other lame web site, but will charge $1/month. It's so cheap, so it's better than not having it!
        Then they will ask $30/month for "full"-ish Internet, but you will be limited to sites they white list. If you don't like it, don't buy it.
        Then that ISP will buy its competitor, and enforce the same kind of Net Neutrality violations that are first world problems.
        Then they will block some polit

        • Yeah well when you start with something good, and then add speculative garbage to the end of your thought nothing ever looks good.

          I for one hold people to account on their actions, not some deranged negative view of the world at large.

          • At which point does it stop being acceptable? Why would it be only acceptable when it's free and/or in poor countries?

            • Its unacceptable when you stop providing something to someone who has nothing, and start actively taking away from someone who otherwise could have something.

              I remember accessing the internet through the local library for free. It was amazing, but it was also censored and limited. But it was better than nothing which is what the people now have.

              As I commented on the other post, when people start complaining about Net Neutrality for Wikipedia Zero and stop applying double standards because %corporation% then

              • Its unacceptable when you stop providing something to someone who has nothing, and start actively taking away from someone who otherwise could have something.

                What kind of definition is that?
                You realize that for the same price (same investment in the network), users in India could have say, 100 MB per month. But instead, Facebook want them to be stuck on their web site.

                I remember accessing the internet through the local library for free. It was amazing, but it was also censored and limited. But it was better than nothing which is what the people now have.

                Net neutrality is a principle that should be applied to networks, not computers or libraries. The local library is free not to give you access at night and this isn't a violation of net neutrality either.

                As I commented on the other post, when people start complaining about Net Neutrality for Wikipedia Zero and stop applying double standards because %corporation% then I'll let it be.

                People do complain about Wikipedia zero. Competitors to Wikipedia are indeed disadvantaged by t

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:30AM (#51462047)

    But I can't help but wonder in practice if it won't leave a lot of poor people with no internet access at all.

    Sure, it's nice to have an even playing field. But when you're starving, do you really want the government telling McDonalds that they can't give you free food because that wouldn't be fair to Burger King?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Burger King neither asks for nor requires any special treatment, peasant!

    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:36AM (#51462089) Journal
      Or maybe it's about a foreign entity putting a bunch of small local providers out of business and then changing their mind about the service being free. I think it is called 'predatory pricing'.
      • Again, yeah that's great, in theory. But, in practice, when you're poor, I doubt you give a fuck whether the only provider you can afford is foreign or not.

        As for it putting the local ISP's out of business and then beginning to charge, I'm not sure I buy that. If they started to charge, wouldn't local competitors just spring right back up again?

        • If they started to charge, wouldn't local competitors just spring right back up again?

          I guess it depends how the local competitors went out of business (and maybe some local laws). If they crashed & burned and directors were declared bankrupt, then they may not be able to start another company for 'x' years. If they liquidated their assets, then maybe they can't raise capital to buy new infrastructure again.

          It's not as cut and dried as going out of business, waiting for circumstances to change, and then going back in business.

        • As for it putting the local ISP's out of business and then beginning to charge, I'm not sure I buy that. If they started to charge, wouldn't local competitors just spring right back up again?
          No, they would not. How should they? They are bankrupt, if something bad happened the directors might be punished, and the founders likely get no loans anymore from banks and are paying back debts from the bankruptcy for decades.

          Ah, you mean: new local ISPs ... perhaps. Perhaps not. After seeing their brethren stumped o

      • FB has never, not once provided a service for free then charged later. You're basing your scenario on zero evidence. Predatory pricing has to have a price before it can be predatory. There is no price and there won't be one. The telecoms are just pissed that they can't keep screwing people for substandard services.
    • Um, cows?
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      But when you're starving, do you really want the government telling McDonalds that they can't give you free food because that wouldn't be fair to Burger King?

      No, but I do want the government telling McDonalds that they can't give me free food because of the effect it will have on my health, and the livelihoods of local food sellers.

      • Why should the government be in the business of protecting local food sellers (and telling me what I can and can't eat)? I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly don't need to government to be my parent, thanks.

        Do we need the government to wipe our asses for us too?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Because it is their government?

        • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @11:43AM (#51462593) Journal

          Why should the government be in the business of protecting local food sellers
          E.g. because they are tax payers?
          Or when they end on the street in poverty they become bandits? (Ah, yes that is illegal, let the cops and courts deal with that)

          American companies try to ruin local food farming and selling all over the world (and other farming, like for cotton). As the local business often is not strong enough to survive, obviously governments need to introduce laws if they want local companies to survive.

          Luckily for you, you live in a country where the big companies ruling the world have their origin. Luckily for you you seem not to need laws that protect you. Yet.

          • As the local business often is not strong enough to survive, obviously governments need to introduce laws

            I don't pay taxes so that my money can be used to prop up businesses that can't compete on their own. Fuck that noise. Maybe your business can't compete because your product sucks ass and/or your service is a joke. Why should taxpayers have to bail you or prop you up out just because you suck? I don't believe the government should be bailing out or propping up anyone--not the banks, not GM, not the oil industry, and not "mom and pop" businesses either.

            And, on the same subject, I get sick or people (usually

            • No idea for what you then pay taxes.

              I for my part pay taxes exactly for the reason that my local "infrastructure" survives onslaughts of greedy US corporations ;D

              I don't pay taxes so that my money can be used to prop up businesses that can't compete on their own.
              How exactly do you think a local business which is doing perhaps $100,000 in turn overs can compete with a multi billion company that "thinks" it can take over the business? How retarded are you?

              If you have a near endless money supply you can drive

        • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @11:51AM (#51462651) Homepage

          Why should the government be in the business of protecting local food sellers (and telling me what I can and can't eat)?

          Because the government is the one who gets to pick up the tab when your local food industry has been destroyed by the multinational companies that are dumping their product, and for the health effects (even if the government doesn't pay directly for health, they pay indirectly through the effect poor health has on the economy). The government is the one who gets to pick up the tab when the local internet industry is destroyed because they don't fit into Facebook's internet.org ecosystem so there is no longer a market for their services, and for the long-term effect on education of being able to access only a limited sandbox instead of the Internet.

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )

          Do we need the government to wipe our asses for us too?

          Well, I have known some indigent senior citizens who did need that kind of help but couldn't afford the nursing care on their own, so yes, I guess, sometimes.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        livelihoods of local food sellers.

        Are you sure? There as long been a question on where the dividing line is between food aide and 'dumping'. If you have a bunch of starving people around they will pay there last penny for something to eat. That is a strong intensive for local producers to find a way. You take that away when some third party comes a long to relieve the starvation. The result is you end up with large pockets of the world that never create a sustainable economy.

        The problem with facebook's "free basics" is that its not rea

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      It would be more like McDonalds and KFC being told they cant give out free food because it would hurt local small business burger and chicken places.

    • You know that may not be the best metaphor for India and the Hindu relationship with cows.

      • McDonalds and Burger King offer plenty of cow-free alternative foods now--for those who love cows, but hate fishes and chickens.

        • In India, McDonalds and Burger King do NOT offer beef burgers. That may sound strange, but they know that doing so would just ensure that nobody would go there. Even pork is rare
    • But I can't help but wonder in practice if it won't leave a lot of poor people with no internet access at all.

      Sure, it's nice to have an even playing field. But when you're starving, do you really want the government telling McDonalds that they can't give you free food because that wouldn't be fair to Burger King?

      No internet access at all, is still better than access to only Facebook.... I doubt that browsing FB all day long is going to help people out of that poverty.

      • Its not access to FB. Educate yourself. The services being offered by FB is basic internet access. All the internet. You don't have to look at FB at all if you don't want. They've done this in several other countries so its not just a theory - we actually "know" exactly what they're providing and it IS basic internet service. All of the internet.
        • by jrumney ( 197329 )

          we actually "know" exactly what they're providing and it IS basic internet service. All of the internet.

          That would make this page [facebook.com] rather redundant then. "Optimise for feature phones" - what they are offering actually seems more like WAP. It might still work for Africa, but India is already well served by LTE networks [worldtimezone.com] and cheap Chinese smartphones.

          • So the above page seems to imply that
            1. Your website has to be very basic (without Javascript for instance) so that they can run on "feature phones".
            2. And you have to register your site with them

            I couldn't find out what pages are available on the service, but it seems "all of the internet" it is not.

    • by dell623 ( 2021586 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @12:41PM (#51463063)

      That is the kind of condescending attitude that people like Mark Zuckerberg have that really pisses off people know who anything about internet access in India. That whole 'let them eat stale bread for free' thing.

      The choice between Zuckerberg curated internet and no internet is a made up, false dichotomy. Whatever else you may say or hate about Google, I much much prefer their philosophy of fast internet is good for Google and therefore they focus on improving access to ALL of the internet.

      For anyone who has been to a train station in India for example, this is an absolute godsend: http://indianexpress.com/artic... [indianexpress.com]

      And a huge number of poorer Indians use trains - we are talking millions of people every day if they cover the 100 largest stations with adequate bandwidth.

      The biggest barrier to internet access in India is not just the cost. And the reason for the high cost is not just the fact that people are poor - the licensing regime and restricted spectrum are far bigger factors than price.

      This has been big news in India and most opinion was strongly against Facebook. You can read some of the arguments here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indi... [indiatimes.com]

      Being poor or poorer doesn't universally bestow some sort of nobility or sense of purpose or a special hunger for knowledge. Most people in the third world use the internet for what the developed world does - games and pointless social media and sharing garbage. That is exactly what the free 'tablets' that a misguided minister subsidized in India a few years ago were mostly used for.

      Provide internet access in public spaces, and in schools and universities Mr. Zuckerberg if you really give a shit.

    • But I can't help but wonder in practice if it won't leave a lot of poor people with no internet access at all.

      Sure, it's nice to have an even playing field. But when you're starving, do you really want the government telling McDonalds that they can't give you free food because that wouldn't be fair to Burger King?

      This is the intent.

      You didn't think that all the poor people with no internet access at all were the ones posting online about the lack of neutrality in the offering, did you? The people posting already have Internet access, and so the only impact on them would be:

      (1) If they were one of the companies that refused to partner with Facebook, which means that they were unable to successfully compete in markets (e.g. job sites, etc.) where they were already underdogs, or

      (2) They were ordinary Indians, more wel

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Let me try?

        "We'd like to give hungry people a free cookie if they visit our store."
        "If they're hungry, you must give them a full meal. A cookie is not a nutritionally balanced meal."
        "Isn't a cookie better than nothing and we're only going to give free cookies, sorry."
        "We told you once, a cookie is not a nutritionally balanced meal!"
        "We understand that but we also know they're hungry and we're prepared to give them a cookie. That cookie is sure to help at least a li..."
        "We said, NO COOKIE! No CHOICE! No!"

        I'm

        • This.

        • And then the local farmers go out of business or stop growing wheat because they can no longer sell it. Now the population become entirely dependent on those free cookies.

          Was it really a good idea? Or just one that appears good when you only consider the short-term impacts?

          Any offer like this distorts the market. Long term effects are likely to have bad outcomes.

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            The local farmers would be selling the flour regardless of who makes the cookies. Hell, the cookies would consume more flour and enable the wheat farmers to make more money. These are not flour-less cookies. They were people with nothing. They were going to buy nothing. They can not pay for anything. Someone is trying to give them that for free. And you, trying to insinuate something, come in with a comment about flour.

            Well, they're making *more* cookies (and giving them away for free) which means that the

            • The local farmers would be selling the flour regardless of who makes the cookies.

              In most cases where aid is provided to poor countries, this is *not* how it works. Instead, food is shipped in from abroad, disrupting the entire food delivery chain, starting with the farmers. Care to try again?

              In this case, what is being disrupted is local Internet access. The long-term effect is likely to make *real* Internet access less available to the population. Perhaps you think that is a good thing?

    • No one is giving free food,

      Company = Facebook
      Product = Poor People
      Consumers = Advertisers

      In your example
      Company = Mc Donalds
      Product = Food
      Consumer = Poor People

      So bad analogy.

    • The biggest enemy of good is not bad, but perfect!
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re "But I can't help but wonder in practice if it won't leave a lot of poor people with no internet access at all."
      Would anyone at a national level really knowingly advise to gift any of its users directly to another nations clandestine services?
      One company that has a brand to sell as a network is not the internet.
    • by luttapi ( 312138 )

      If McDonald offered free burgers, not all burgers but only those containing a substance that would make you addicted to them for a lifetime, I wouldn't be surprised if the government stopped them. I don't think I would protest, even if I was starving.

  • A little closer to a dumb pipe. Now, let's get those upload speeds where they belong.

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:36AM (#51462085) Homepage

    voted against differential pricing, ruling with immediate effect that all data prices must be equal, and that companies cannot offer cheaper rates than others for certain content

    The decision makes sense, but the reasoning and naming is nonsensical. It is fine for data prices to be different, and it is fine for companies to offer cheaper rates than others. The issue is that they cannot offer a "partial" internet. They must offer the entire internet, or none at all. This would make more sense to be called "differential content."

    Any vision into the naming here? It seems like it sends the wrong message. Or maybe this is a translation problem?

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:48AM (#51462173) Homepage

      As I understand it, differential pricing is "this data will be free for you, whereas accessing this stuff will cost you" -- because you're getting a cut from the revenue of the first set of data.

      Basically people would be pushed to preferentially use Facebook for everything, while being penalized for using anything else.

      So, we'll give you all the Facebook you can handle, but go to YouTube and we'll charge you more.

      It boils down to differential pricing when data from one source is made to artificially cost less than data coming from another source.

      • I wonder if it is possible to use Facebook messages as a transport layer to deliver (encrypted) content. A bit like people have written GMailFS to use GMail's unlimited storage as a generic file system layer.
      • Again, this is not the case. Simply look at other places where FB is providing this service and you'll see its access to most of the internet for free. If you want FB services you can certainly pay to get premium services but you can also ignore FB and still have very reasonable and helpful access to pretty much the rest of the net.
        • So, I've obviously never seen what FB is offering, but this [ndtv.com] sounds like it's partitioned:

          Yet the Free Basics program was controversial from the start in India, where critics accused Facebook of creating a "walled garden" for poor users that only allowed them access to a portion of the web that Facebook controlled.

          Dozens of well-known tech entrepreneurs, university professors and tech industry groups spoke out against it, saying that the curated app, with its handpicked weather, job and other listings, put I

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Again, this is not the case. Simply look at other places where FB is providing this service and you'll see its access to most of the internet for free. If you want FB services you can certainly pay to get premium services but you can also ignore FB and still have very reasonable and helpful access to pretty much the rest of the net.

          It's not "pretty much the rest of the web". Apart from banning high-bandwidth traffic such as videos (which might be understandable on cost grounds) they also ban JS and HTTPS other than Facebook and sites they select. This means you can't provide an alternative social media platform. Nor can you provide any sort of secure service such as shopping or messaging without their collaboration.

          Essentially, FB are using cash from overseas to subsidize this service and therefore are making it commercially impossibl

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, Zuck. You'll have to look elsewhere for the data of impoverished people with no recourse. Putting the political issue to one side, I am so glad there are still people on earth that will stand up to Ametican corporations!

  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Doesn't seem like much of a fine.

  • Corruption (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @10:46AM (#51462155)

    Seriously ... one of the most corrupt countries on the planet puts into effect a law to enforce net neutrality and prevent subversion ...

    And we (USA) can't ... W ... T ... F ...

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      That's an optimistic reading.

      How do you know that banning this wasn't the result of corruption -- payments by local providers willing to keep Facebook out?

      • Re:Corruption (Score:5, Informative)

        by dell623 ( 2021586 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @12:59PM (#51463241)

        You can know by wanting to know - this isn't China we are discussing.

        There was a massive public campaign: https://www.savetheinternet.in... [savetheinternet.in]

        The founders of hundreds of Indian startups signed a letter calling for net neutrality.

        The regulatory authority TRAI received 2.4 million public submissions, mostly favouring net neutrality.

        India is a corrupt country but don't get so hung up on stereotypes.

        Also, unlike China, Facebook is the dominant social network in India as much as it is everywhere else. There are no local alternatives - most internet users would be comfortable enough with English to just use Facebook and multi language support takes care of the rest. What's app is huge as you would expect. So there is no question of keeping Facebook out. Just the Zuckernet - India doesn't want the Zuckernet.

        I cannot believe an audience like Slashdot does not get the implications of something like this. Imagine if the internet had been considered too expensive for poorer countries and the only 'internet' that reached poorer countries was a curated government managed internet in the guise of making it cheap. Why does India need the real internet at all, they can't afford it anyway, just like they shouldn't be flying rockets and shit. Let's switch the whole country to free Zuckernet.

  • FB shouldn't be held accountable to this ruling - there's no such thing as 'differential pricing' when there's no price at all. If you get what you pay for, be thankful you get *something* when you're paying nothing.

    Free is free, take it or leave it, no one's forcing anyone. And government be damned if they try to tell me I can't give something away for free if I choose to.

    • There is a price. You must pay if you want to access web sites other than Facebook.
      Use 100GB per month of Facebook? It's free. Use 100MB of a random web site, you must pay. That's a clear violation of the principle of net neutrality.

      • Net neutrality has nothing to do with this. The free offer is your connection to Facebook. That's it. You use your connection for something else that's on you. It's exactly how it would be if you didn't have the free connection from facebook in the first place, i.e., you'd pay for your connection to other sites. Having the facebook free service doesn't change that.
        • It has everything to do with net neutrality. Charging different prices according to the content of the data.
          Just because it's a "good thing" or your like it doesn't make it any less a net neutrality violation.

          • Regardless of what you or I think about it, net neutrality doesn't apply.

            • How so?

              Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

              Sounds like the exact definition of what they are doing with zero-rating Facebook but not other kind of data.

  • Maybe if the first 5gb were free or something similar. That way it doesn't discriminate specific content but gets a free internet out there. I'm sure the companies have their own reasons for making some sites free vs others but I also believe they may have had some legit worries about high bandwidth content over taxing a bare bones network.
  • They could let the service be for the time being and keep an eye on both positive and negative effects, then negotiate concessions (or, as the last resort, shut down) if disadvantages become severe.

    When US Internet was expensive/poorly accessible outside education, most people got online though walled garden services like Compuserve and AOL. Yet ISPs quickly won out as soon as people could afford an unrestricted connection. I don't see why the same can not happen in India over time.

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