TRAI’s Conscientious Stand Against Facebook’s Free Basics Is A Net Neutrality Positive

I’m relieved—and I’m sure so are all fellow supporters of net neutrality—that we no longer need to worry about the possibility that a mighty corporation of the scale of Facebook could get to shape our internet preferences and habits in a monopolistic manner (as if the existing addiction to Facebook is not enough!).

In campaigning for Free Basics, Facebook exhibited an amazing lack of understanding about India.

It seemed to believe that it could ultimately succeed in making its anti-internet marketing strategy work in India even though it was decisively rejected in its home country. Its CEO Mark Zuckerberg remained insistent that Free Basics was an act of charity even as none other than Tim Berners-Lee, who is considered the inventor of World Wide Web, opposed Free Basics with a very clear message:“just say no.”

Come on Mr. Zuckerberg: if you are really so keen to provide free internet to the masses of India then why not arrange to just give the first few minutes free and leave it up to them whether they use a specific service like Facebook or not. Your telco or ISP partner could charge them after the free minutes are over. That should be the ONLY way to offer free internet, if ever.

There are things which one doesn’t even need to debate or argue for—your conscience should be able to tell you what is right, and if that’s not happening then something is terribly wrong with you.

For that matter, Airtel reflected a much higher degree of respect for people’s opinion when they opposed Airtel Zero—an offering that was much similar to Free Basics. Airtel quickly rolled the offering back.

TRAI—Telecom Regulatory Authority of India—has been very scathing in its observations made around Free Basics, terming it as a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” It is very rare for TRAI to do so, and as a market analyst as well as an ICT user, it makes me respect the regulator for being so upfront on a matter that directly concerns the freedom of internet.

All the right signals go up when a sector regulator talks tough and takes the right stand against a global internet giant. Well done TRAI!

The greed called Free Basics could end up costing dearly to Facebook as well as to the telcos. While telcos have long offered special Facebook packs, without anybody flinching an eye, the practice would soon come to an end with the fresh TRAI guidelines that disallow any form of differential pricing when it comes to determining internet data tariffs.

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About the Author

Deepak carries around 25 years of experience. He is the Founder Analyst at B&M NXT. His focus areas include strategic business consulting & advisory, strategic communications, sales enablement and capacity building. He is also a columnist at Governance Now, India’s leading magazine on public policy and governance matters.

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