A recent decision by India’s telecom regulator to prohibit differential charges for Internet content – which effectively blocked Facebook from offering its Free Basics service in the country – highlights how regulators around the globe continue to work through whether and how “zero-rating” data services may be permissible under their country’s net neutrality framework. Zero-rating services allow consumers to access certain content without being charged for that data. For example, Facebook’s Free Basics program offers users no-fee access to a text-only mobile version of the Facebook social network, as well as to certain news, health, job and other services.
Proponents of zero-rating and sponsored data services argue that such services give consumers an affordable option to access content on the Internet where they may not otherwise be able to afford broadband Internet service. Facebook argues that its Free Basics program “provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable.”