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TRAI pauses Facebook's free basics, will decide on net neutrality in Jan

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked Reliance Communications, which partnered with Facebook to put their ‘Free Basics’ on hold reported BBC on 23 December.

Free basics is pitched as a service which would provide internet accessibility to people who cannot afford high costs of internet but critics believe that the concept is contrary to net neutrality principles. Free basics would favour certain online services over others.

A Reliance spokesperson was quoted as saying: “As directed by TRAI, the commercial launch of Free Basics has been kept in abeyance, until they consider all details and convey a specific approval.”

TRAI told Reliance that it wanted to “examine the details and intrinsic” of the offer but it is believed that the issue concerns net neutrality principles.

Facebook introduced internet.org in 2013 for developing countries in order to “introduce people to the benefits of the internet”, which was renamed as ‘free basics’ earlier this year. Content in free basics includes pages from selected local news and weather forecast providers, the BBC, Wikipedia and various health services offered in 36 countries and expected to introduce more than 15 million people to internet. However, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly said that it was"not sustainable to offer the whole internet for free”.

Critics are worried about disadvantages to start-ups and companies not included in free basics and several larger groups who had signed up for the same pulled out of the services including the Times Group and Cleartrip, citing concerns about absence of fair, level playing field.

TRAI is going to hold a hearing into net neutrality in January and Facebook has upped its marketing in India recently asking people to support free basics.

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