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Free Basics: TRAI slams Facebook's 'orchestrated', 'majoritarian' campaign

New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come down hard on Facebook over its campaign to save Free Basics, its zero-rating platform. In a strongly worded letter to the social media giant,
India TV News Desk January 20, 2016 19:47 IST
India TV News Desk

New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come down hard on Facebook over its campaign to save Free Basics, its zero-rating platform. In a strongly worded letter to the social media giant, TRAI has slammed the manner in which Facebook has carried out its campaign to save Free Basics in India.

According to TRAI, the representations made by Facebook in response to the telecom regulator's specific questions on the issue of differential pricing of data services have been focussed on the Free Basics service of the social media giant and not on the issue that TRAI sought consultation on.

“Your urging has the flavour of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll," Trai said in its letter to Facebook dated January 18.

The social media giant had launched a public campaign to defend its free Internet platform Free Basics in response to consultation paper floated by Trai. According to reports, it spent about Rs 300 crore on the marketing campaign. Free Basics allow users to access certain websites without any data charges. Experts claim Free Basics violate principles of net neutrality.

Also Read: Decoding the 'Free Basics' vs 'Net Neutrality' debate in India

TRAI has specifically requested Facebook to ensure that Free Basics supporters answer the four questions raised in the paper, rather than espouse support for just one platform.

According to TRAI, the comments it has received as part of its consultation process that ended on January 7 are not specific to the questions asked by the TRAI. TRAI's letter also states that Facebook has been silent on whether it conveyed the full text of the regulator's message to users who had supported Free Basics.

 “In light of the tangential natures of the responses by the users to the questions asked, the communication of the text was vital to demonstrating and ensuring that those who are responding to TRAI are making informed decisions,” TRAI said in its letter, implying that Facebook had misled its users on the consultative process.

The telecom regulator also rubbished Facebook's contention that someone at TRAI blocked email from its websites, which people used for sharing their comments on differential pricing issue. "Someone with access to designated Trai email account appears to have blocked receipt of all emails from Facebook to that Trai account," Facebook had told TRAI.

In its letter addressed to Ankhi Das, Director-Public Policy, India, South & Central Asia at Facebook, TRAI asked why, if the email was really blocked since December 17, did Facebook bring to its notice on January 13, after the consultation process was over.

"Trai should have been informed immediately for appropriate steps to be taken. In fact, a similar instance of user complaint regarding the non-functioning of an email address during the response period for this consultation paper was brought to the notice of Trai by individual stakeholders and the situation was immediately rectified. It is surprising that it took over 25 days for you to inform Trai of this," it noted.

TRAI Chairman R S Sharma met Facebook representatives on January 14, and agreed to take into account all the relevant responses that seek to answer the questions raised in the consultation paper, which was delivered to Trai in a pen-drive on January 14, the letter added.