The telecom regulator for the country of India has banned the use of Facebook’s “Free Basics” program, according to a statement released Monday.
The program is an attempt made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to allow the poorest civilians within developing countries to have access to the Internet. However, the initiative has been met with some pushback, with critics stating the “Free Basics” are an abridged version of the Internet and shouldn’t be allowed for only certain members of the population.
According to BBC News, the program offers free access to a limited number of sites, such as weather, news, health sites, and job listings. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India stated that offering “Free Basics” to a select population would be discriminatory.
“No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content,” ruled the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
Zuckerberg has publicly stated his hopes to allow Internet access for those who otherwise may not be able to afford it. He hopes that by connecting people within developing countries, they will be allowed more opportunities. Every month, there are more than 100 billion searches being conducted around the world. However, there are millions of people who don’t even have access to the Internet.
“While we’re disappointed with today’s decision,” he wrote, “I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.”
While the overall message of the program seems philanthropic, it has met a wide range of resistance from within developing countries. Critics compared “Free Basics” to allowing the poor access to a “walled garden” that was controlled and limited by Facebook itself.
Tech entrepreneurs and industry groups stated the regulated content and free access put India’s start-ups and developers at a severe disadvantage.
According to The Washington Post, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released a position paper in December that requested public comment about whether programs like “Free Basics” were fair to the entire population.
Facebook issued a rebuttal, using television and radio advertisements, billboards, and an opinion piece about the controversy wrote by Zuckerberg himself.