As Facebook is still battling India’s tech activists with respect to the Free Basics services that were recently introduced in the country, the social networking giant is also facing another backlash in North African country Egypt.
Officials in this country have shut down a similar program that was serving more than 3 million people with free internet. The Free Basics program is aimed at providing millions who live in developing countries with free access to internet services from wherever they are. The program allowed millions of Egyptians to access text-only versions of the company’s flagship app as well as other services, but it was closed down by the government on 30th December.
Facebook had partnered with Etisalat Telephony Company to provide these services to the people of Egypt, however, according to the country’s telecommunication officials; the two-month deal that the two entities struck was expiring on the same day that the government closed it down.
Is it a security measure by the government?
Even though officials claim that there was a two-month permit that was given to Etisalat with regards to offering citizens of this country Free Basics services, there is another side of the story developing. The government of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is seemingly working to prevent a repeat of something that happened five years ago on January 25.
This was the day when the Arab Spring uprising removed the then President Hosni Mubarak from power and during the time, social media was at the center of running things. Organizers used Facebook and other platforms to mobilize demonstrations, something that El-Sisi would not want to see a repeat of during his reign.
Facebook, on the other hand, has responded in a statement showing its disappointment in the fact that Free Basics is not available to Egyptians, but also promised that it will work on resolving the problem as soon as possible.
This move will now leave more than 1 million with no internet connection, Facebook reveals. The company said that of the more than 3 million people who were already using this service, over a million were previously not connected to the internet. Many telcos are of the view that Facebook’s program is a violation of net neutrality, something that has seen the program receive lots of criticism in the countries it has set foot in.
In his defense, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that this program is aimed at proving cellphone users with free access to not just Facebook services, but also to services such as job hunting, health information, news, as well as messaging services. The Zuck says that this program helps the poor to access the internet for free.