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India introduced new rules on Monday to prevent Internet service providers from having different pricing policies for accessing different parts of the web, in a setback to Facebook's plan to roll out a pared-back free Internet service to the masses.
The new rules by the regulator came after a two-month long consultation process that saw Facebook launching a big advertisement campaign in support of its Free Basics program, that runs in more than 35 developing countries around the world.
The program offers pared-down Internet services on mobile phones, along with access to the company's own social network and messaging services, without charge.
The service, earlier known as internet.org, has also run into trouble in some other countries that have accused it of infringing the principle of net neutrality — the concept that all websites and data on the Internet are treated equally.
Critics and Internet activists argue that allowing access to a select few apps and web services for free would put small content providers and start-ups that don't participate in it at a disadvantage.
On Monday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which had suspended the free Facebook service pending a policy decision, said Internet service providers would not be allowed to discriminate on pricing for different web services.
"Essentially everything on the internet is agnostic in the sense that it cannot be priced differently," TRAI chairman Ram Sevak Sharma told a news conference.
Mark Zuckerberg responded to the changes in a post on his Facebook account on Monday.
“While we're disappointed with today's decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet,” Zuckerberg wrote.