India Bans Facebook’s Free Basics over Net Neutrality Concerns


In 2014 during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unleashed an ambitious plan aimed at making internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected. The ambitious plan led to the birth of  , a partnership between Facebook, Nokia, Qualcomm and telcom carriers. The plan was to use solar-powered drones and spacecraft to beam internet to the developing world. Through  users would access basic web services such as weather reports, Wikipedia, Facebook at no cost. The grand scheme of things was to have these users enjoy these basic services which would in turn inspire them to explore the rest of the web.  Facebook later renamed the service Free Basics.

The project faced criticism for failure to abide by the principles of net neutrality, with many stating that it allowed users to access faster access to some sites. One of the harshest criticism against the Free Basics came from India. India’s tech community was the opinion that Free Basics would disadvantage them in terms of users accessing their sites. Others were of the opinion that the scheme violated their privacy as developer guidelines stated websites should not include HTTPS, TLS or SSL encryption technologies. To this end, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an OpEd on Times of India, championing a case for Free Basics.

Today, the Telecoms regulator in India has banned Free Basics within India stating it violates the principles of net neutrality. The ban follows another temporary ban by the regulator in December 2015 as they thought about the way forward with the service. According to the Verge, Facebook reportedly spent $45 Million promoting Free Basics in India.  Free basics is available in 36 countries and has brought over 15 Million people online for the first time. India was to serve as a launching pad for the service into many parts of the developing world.