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Facebook's free Internet service shut down in Egypt

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Dec. 31, 2015 at 12:26 PM

CAIRO, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A Facebook program aimed to provide free Internet access in developing nations was shut down in Egypt on Wednesday, affecting more than 3 million people.

Facebook's Free Basics service allows users access to Facebook and some other websites free of charge and without using mobile data, which can be expensive in Egypt.

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Facebook, which launched in Egypt in October, said the program allowed 1 million people to go online for the first time.

Critics have said the program undermines the principle of net neutrality, the idea the internet traffic should be treated equally.

Facebook said it was "disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt" in a statement, adding it hoped "to resolve this situation soon."

Facebook argues that the program introduces poor people to the Internet, with many later becoming paying customers to receive more Internet access.

The Free Basics program was suspended in India earlier this month while the country's telecommunications regulator considered granting the service specific approval.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg responded to criticism in an open editorial published in the Times of India.

"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. "This isn't about Facebook's commercial interests -- there aren't even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics."

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