Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief. This week: Bangladesh moves toward net neutrality while Pakistan threatens to ban China’s TikTok, regional coronavirus cases surge past 1.8 million, and a government airstrike in Afghanistan kills civilians.
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Why Is South Asia Pushing Back Against Social Media?
Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulator quietly announced last week it would prohibit so-called zero rating of social media apps, a process in which cellular firms provide free internet for the use of particular apps. The move is significant because it represents a victory for net neutrality—the principle by which internet providers must not regulate bandwidth to favor one company over another. (Without net neutrality, your internet provider could strike up a high-speed deal with Netflix, while slowing down a competitor such as Hulu.)
Strangely, as the website Medianama reports, Bangladesh’s decision did not explicitly mention net neutrality, instead focusing on how zero rating was “used by dishonest persons to carry out unnecessary criminal activities” and “creating unhealthy competition in the market.”
A blow for Facebook. Bangladesh’s decision will hurt Facebook most of all by shutting down its Free Basics program, which offered free internet to access Facebook and WhatsApp through a network of local partnerships. Other than India, which banned Free Basics in 2016, most other South Asian countries have yet to put net neutrality regulations in place. Users of the program in Bangladesh will now have to