Facebook's Free Basics Shut Down in Egypt, Heavily Opposed in India

Oh dear, Facebook just cannot seem to convince people that their efforts to bring free internet to the masses have virtuous motivations. Over the course of the past month or two, their new 'Free Basics' service, a rudimentary form of internet access that comes free of charge and purports to help more people go online has been rolled out in India and a number of other countries. If first impressions are anything to go by, none of them want anything to do with it anymore.

The service offers a limited set of websites and apps in a kind of 'internet-lite', supposedly in the hopes of ushering in increased connectivity in nations that are really in need of it. On December 30th, the service was shut down in Egypt. It's unclear exactly why it's been pulled there, Facebook is actually fairly popular in Egypt, and it was instrumental in the organisation of demonstrations during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Elsewhere however, the reasoning for opposition is abundantly clear. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India have been taking measures to have Free Basics temporarily suspended there, in the wake of massive opposition from the public and many Indian tech firms and start-ups. Why, you ask? Net neutrality. Despite the overwhelming need for strengthened connectivity in India, the fact remains that Free Basics is internet access on Facebook's terms, they decide what you can access.

Mark Zuckerberg has been doing all he can to counteract this wave of negative criticism. A few months ago he took part in a public interview with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and in the wake of this latest backlash, he published an op-ed in the Times of India, making the case for Free Basics. In it, he makes the point that 30 countries still use the service, and that it represents a first step towards wider, all-encompassing internet access.


Beyond this, Facebook have also unleashed a barrage of advertising across the nation, with magazine ads and posters extolling the virtues of Free Basics. Sadly for them, that has backfired too, as a Reddit user decided to rework the text in the ads to feature some rather severe, but warranted criticisms of the whole thing. It's amusing, but it also aptly demonstrates the fact that Facebook are not directly addressing their critics, they're merely drawing a circle around them. As previously stated, Free Basics is running without issue in around 30 countries outside of India and Egypt, but the former remains their number 1 target, and at present, their attack strategy simply is not working.

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