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Facebook Inc (FB) ‘Disappointed’ After Egypt Kills ‘Free Basics’

Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB)

Facebook Inc ’s controversial free internet service has been suspended in Egypt. Free Basics provides users with free access to select sites on their mobile devices. Facebook says that over 3M people had signed up for the platform in Egypt. Of those, the social network claims, 1M had gained net access for the very first time.

In a statement issued to the Associated Press late Wednesday, Facebook said it was “disappointed” by the shut down. It however hoped to “resolve this situation soon” so that the service can be restored.

Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB)

Facebook Loses Out in Egypt 

Formerly known as the Internet.org, Free Basics was launched to bring net connectivity to the developing world. The app is free to download. Also, there are no data charges involved. It provides access to Facebook as well as a host of sites. Some of these deliver key info like local govt news, health services and job boards.

Free Basics was unveiled in Egypt two months ago in tie-up with mobile carrier Etisalat. It was not clear why the service was stopped in the country. But the decision isn’t entirely surprising considering Egypt’s love-hate relationship with social media. Facebook and Twitter Inc played a key organizing role during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Interestingly, the regime led by Abdel Fattah has recently intensified efforts to thwart any protests on January 25. That day will mark the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled the Hosni Mubarak govt.

Facebook’s India Troubles Escalate

Egypt is however not the first country to resist Free Basics. The app is currently mired in a heated debate in India. Opponents of the service argue that it defies the very principles of net neutrality. They demand that all sites should be made equally accessible for the service to become acceptable.

Last week, regulators in India had directed that the program be suspended. This came after partner carrier Reliance failed to provide information about a planned expansion.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has mounted a forceful campaign to defend Free Basics. Writing in The Times of India on this week, he asked, “Who could possibly be against this?”

“Instead of welcoming Free Basics as an open platform that will partner with any telco…and allows any developer to offer services to people for free, they claim…falsely…that this will give people less choice,” Zuckerberg wrote. ”

Shares of Facebook Inc last closed at $106.22. The stock is up 36% year to date.

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