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.
A report from Reuters cites a government official who said the service was suspended because Facebook had not renewed a necessary permit, and not related to security concerns.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the shut down in an emailed statement, but did not disclose the reason behind the suspension:
“We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer available in Egypt as of December 30, 2015. Already more than 3 million Egyptians use Free Basics and through Free Basics more than 1 million people who were previously unconnected are now using the internet because of these efforts. We are committed to Free Basics, and we’re going to keep working to serve our community to provide access to connectivity and valuable services. We hope to resolve this situation soon.”
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.