The Indian government has ordered Facebook's Free Basics plan on hold while it decides what to do. The program, launched in more than 35 developing countries around the world, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, along with access to the company's own social network
and messaging services, without charge.
               
But critics say the program, launched 10 months ago in India in collaboration with mobile operator Reliance Communications , violates principles of net neutrality, the concept that all websites on the internet are treated equally. It would put small content providers and start-ups that don't participate in it at a disadvantage, they say.
               
"India is a test case for a company like Facebook and what happens here will affect the roll out of this service in other smaller countries where perhaps there is not so much awareness at present," said Mishi Choudhary, a New York-based lawyer who works on technology and Internet advocacy issues.
               
Also at stake is Facebook's ambition to expand in its largest market outside the United States. Only 252 million out of India's 1.3 billion people have Internet access, making it a growth market for firms including Google and Facebook.