Facebook has officially withdrawn its controversial Free Basics project in India, following a verdict by the country's telecom regulator banning differential pricing for zero-rated platforms. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with the ruling earlier this week, after months of deliberation during which it sought comments from the public over the benefits of differential pricing.

Although Free Basics was positioned as a service aiming to provide millions of impoverished people free access to the internet, its execution was flawed as the service was limited to one carrier, Reliance. Furthermore, by making a limited set of websites and services available via Free Basics, Facebook essentially controlled what people see when they make their way online for the first time.

The service's exit in India comes on the heels of a tweet by Facebook board member and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who said that the country would be better economically were it not for "anti-colonialist" ideas like net neutrality. His comments drew the ire of internet users from around the country, with Mark Zuckerberg also offering a statement distancing himself (and Facebook) from the controversy:

I want to respond to Marc Andreessen's comments about India yesterday. I found the comments deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all.

India has been personally important to me and Facebook. Early on in my thinking about our mission, I traveled to India and was inspired by the humanity, spirit and values of the people. It solidified my understanding that when all people have the power to share their experiences, the entire world will make progress.

Facebook stands for helping to connect people and giving them voice to shape their own future. But to shape the future we need to understand the past. As our community in India has grown, I've gained a deeper appreciation for the need to understand India's history and culture. I've been inspired by how much progress India has made in building a strong nation and the largest democracy in the world, and I look forward to strengthening my connection to the country.

Even though Free Basics is no longer available in India, the service continues to operate in over 30 countries around the world.

Source: Times of India