If AT&T, T-Mobile and Comcast pulled zero-rate schemes in India like they did in the US, they would have to stop today. Similarly, Facebook is actually going to have to stop in its tracks from promoting its Free Basics program in the country.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has banned “discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.” That means an internet service provider won’t be able to charge end users differently for video data than it does for basic data. Access to emergency services or to information during public emergencies are eligible for a reduced tariff.
Facebook had partnered with Reliance Communications to deliver its Free Basics package — free access to certain sites including public health sites, Wikipedia and Facebook — to the subcontinent which the government publicly objected to in December.
For example, a consumer cannot be charged differently based on whether she is browsing social media site A or B, or on whether she is watching streaming videos or shopping on the internet.
Regardless of intent, opponents of zero-rate schemes believe they pit program participants against non-participants by giving a non-merit price and marketing advantage to those services.
Free Basics in Egypt was shut down at the end of last year, though the reasons for it are unknown.