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India may have binned Facebook's freebies on net neutrality grounds

Report says local regulators aren't happy with Zuckerberg's mission to civilise

Facebook's “Free Basics” program, which sees its Indian telecoms partner Reliance Communications offer free internet access to a select group of sites, has reportedly earned the ire of India's telecoms regulator.

The Times of India reports that India's Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) has asked Reliance to pause provision of access to Free Basics on Net Neutrality grounds.

Facebook initially selected participants in Free Basics, but after mutterings about net neutrality opened the platform to third parties. There's now a set of participation guidelines for sites seeking to join the platform, although that documentation is silent on what it will take to pass the review process required before a site will be added to the platform, other than ensuring the absence of large images, Flash and Java.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended Free Basics, arguing that every time someone is able to put the Internet's resources to work it's a win for everyone. His critics' counter-argument suggests that Facebook is essentially making a land grab, that the Internet-as-civilising-influence story is little more than colonialism re-invented for the digital age and that online businesses in the developing nations Free Basics purports to serve find it hard to access the platform.

The The Times of India report says Reliance is yet to pull the pin on Free Basics and the TRAI's web site and social media presences are silent on the matter.

If Free Basics is blocked it will be a blow for both Facebook and Reliance. The former will find itself under suspicion as never before. The latter will lose one of its differentiators. But Facebook can probably bounce back, as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Zuckerberg seldom miss an opportunity to appear in one another's company, with the former being very bullish on internet access as an economic development tactic. ®

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