Facebook's Free Basics Program Shut Down in Egypt With No Explanation

A woman watching a video on her Facebook news feed onn iPhone.
Courtesy of Facebook

A woman watching a video on her Facebook news feed onn iPhone.

A program that had been giving free basic Internet services to over three million Egyptians was shut down on Wednesday, social media site Facebook said.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Facebook said it hoped to "resolve this situation soon" so the program, which it had launched with Etisalat Egypt some two months ago, could be restored.

"We're disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt," it said. "More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts."

The service, which is aimed at users in developing countries, connects a billion people worldwide, providing free health, education, and economic information.

It was not immediately clear why the program was halted. Neither Etisalat nor Egyptian officials could immediately be reached for comment. The program was recently highlighted at an entrepreneurship fair in Cairo.

Facebook and other social media sites are extremely popular in Egypt, and were used to organize protests during the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Free Basics' most recent snag came two days before Christmas, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India instructed Reliance Communications, Facebook's only telecom partner in Free Basics on the subcontinent, to suspend operations pending an investigation into the net neutrality implications baked into the project.

Free Basics is available in 36 countries (its site still lists India) throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, using what's called a "zero-rating" approach, where providers of internet access -- whether mobile carriers or internet service providers -- don't charge customers for their data usage. (T-Mobile's "Music Freedom" program is an example.)


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