Free Basics
"Facebook’s actions as similar to those of the East India Company”

Amidst stiff opposition from a section of the Indian public against Facebook’s Free Basics, faculty members of Computer science and allied subjects of leading Indian institutes such as the IITs and IISc have also spoken out against it.

In an open letter, they have now asked the country’s regulatory authority TRAI to reject Facebook’s service in the interest of the public.

Facebook’s zero-rating platform has been a contentious issue since the social networking giant announced its plan to launch the service in India. Net Neutrality activists have since claimed that this violates the principle of a free internet.

“Allowing a private entity to define for Indian internet users what is ‘basic’, to control what content costs how much, and to have access to the personal content created and used by millions of Indians, is a lethal combination which will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians can use their own public utility, the internet,” said a joint statement from the academicians.

Net neutrality activists have alleged that Free Basics would discriminate against a large number of Indians.

Also Read: BJD MP Jay Panda calls out Facebook, asks TRAI for ‘prudence’ in assessing submissions

On December 12, TRAI had asked for public responses on differential pricing for internet services without any mention of Free Basics by December 30

The academicians argued that Facebook’s proposal had several contradictions which were disguised as charity.

“What are the ‘basic’ digital services Indians will access using their own air waves will be decided by a private corporation, and that too one based on foreign soil. The sheer absurdity of this is too obvious to point out,” they asked.

Also Read: Hyderabad bats for net neutrality as hundreds gather in protest

Moreover, they questioned Facebook’s model of compromising with security and privacy of its customers stating that the social network can decrypt the content in the basic apps.

“Either we get to consider our banking apps to be not ‘basic’, or risk exposing the financial information of all Indians to Facebook. And so on. This is mind-boggling even under normal circumstances, and even more so considering the recent internal and international snooping activities by the NSA in the US,” they added.

It was earlier reported that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had tried to get start-up executives and software industry body Nasscom in its fold.

Business Standard reports Nasscom on Tuesday said it would submit its response to the telecom regulator on differential pricing and net neutrality before the deadline.

“As part of our policy submissions, we have detailed consultative sessions with different stakeholders and these discussions will help us to better understand different points of view and take into consideration any inputs that Facebook and Save the Internet and any other interested parties provide before we firm up our response to Trai,” Nasscom President R Chandrashekhar told the newspaper.

Other than the academicians, a noted critic of the Facebook service was Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of wallet-turned-e-commerce firm Paytm, who had called Facebook’s actions as similar to those of the “East India Company”

“Facebook’s Free Basics is a disingenuous way of trying to solve a problem of access. The regulator should see through this attempt by Facebook and not allow any of these distortions of the market,”  Mishi Choudhary, legal director at Software Freedom Law Centre, and a campaigner of the 'Save the Internet' movement told Rediff.