Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Free Internet blocked

A Facebook-sponsored Internet service has been suspended in Egypt, reports Nesma Nowar

Al-Ahram Weekly

A no-cost Internet-browsing service, called Free Basics, was shut down on 30 December, two months after Facebook launched the service with mobile operator Etisalat Misr.

Etisalat announced the end of the service on 31 December, saying that the two-month period granted to the company by the National Telecoms Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to run the service had come to an end.

An official from the Telecommunications Ministry told Reuters last week that Etisalat had only been granted a permit to offer the service for two months and the permit had not been renewed by the government.

The service aimed to provide free access to Facebook and some partner websites in developing countries.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Facebook said it hoped to “resolve this situation soon” so the programme could be restored. “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” the statement said.

“More than one million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.”

There has been speculation that the suspension of the service could have been for security reasons in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s 25 January Revolution. Facebook played a pivotal role in the revolution as it was the main medium used to call for protests.

However, a government source told the Arabic daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that shutting down the service had nothing to do with security concerns.

He said that Etisalat had gained approval from the NTRA to offer the service for a two-month period only, as competition between the country’s three mobile operators requires setting a specific timeframe for any offer. He added that it had been announced earlier that the service would be offered for a limited time.

Free Basics is part of a broader Facebook endeavour called that allows users in developing countries to use a selection of services without paying for data usage. Facebook said that the service consisted of a set of basic websites and services to introduce people to the value of the Internet and “add value to their lives.”

A mobile app is free to download and includes Facebook and a selection of websites for key information like news, employment, health, education and local services.

But Facebook’s efforts have met with obstacles in some countries, such as India where the country’s telecoms regulator asked in December for the service to be disabled while investigating whether it posed a threat to net neutrality.

Net neutrality means that all data should be treated equally and that companies cannot pay for faster access or preferential treatment. Some argue that Free Basics is challenging Internet neutrality because it is free.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended the service, saying, “We should support free basic Internet services if we believe that everyone deserves access to the Internet.”

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