Facebook’s Controversial Free Basics Program Shuts Down In Egypt
Free Basics, a Facebook program that gives free access to certain Internet services, has been shut down in Egypt. The news comes the week after India’s telecom regulator ordered the suspension of Free Basics as it prepares to hold public hearings on net neutrality.
Facebook confirmed the shut down in Egypt to the Associated Press, stating “we’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt. More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.” TechCrunch has asked Facebook for more information about what caused the suspension.
Free Basics was available in Egypt on telecom Etisalat Egypt’s network. The program, which is run by Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, lets subscribers to its telecom partners access a limited group of services and websites, like Wikipedia, Bing search, and BBC News, without data charges.
While Free Basics, which has launched in 37 countries so far, is meant to help more people in emerging economies get online, critics say that it violates net neutrality and question Facebook’s motives, since the services included in Free Basics include both its social network and Facebook Messenger.
The controversy has become especially acute in India, Facebook’s second biggest market outside of the United States. Facebook arguably made a major public relations mishap there with its “Save Free Basics” campaign, which called on Facebook users to send a pre-filled email to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India supporting the program. The company also purchased newspaper and billboard advertisements to defend Free Basics. Many people, however, found the campaign misleading. In response, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg defended the program in an opinion piece for The Times of India, comparing Free Basics to public libraries, while Internet.org vice president took part in a Reddit AMA.
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