TRAI accused Facebook of reducing a 'meaningful consultative exercise' to a 'crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll'

Facebooks Free Basics campaign a crudeorchestrated opinion poll says TRAI
news Net Neutrality Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 10:04

A letter from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), to Facebook, which was made public recently, reveals the clash between the two parties over the ongoing consultation process on net neutrality and differential pricing of the internet in India.

The regulatory body has accused the social networking site of reducing the former's "meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll".

One of the letters is dated January 18, and is addressed to Facebook's Director of Public Policy in India.

In the letter, TRAI writes: 

"Equally of concern, is your self appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to TRAI using your platform. It is noticed that you have not been authorized by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively. No disclosure in the act of sending a message to TRAI, using your platform, to this effect has been issued to users.

The only act to which such users have consented, is the following: By clicking send email, you agree to let Facebook send your name and this email to TRAI.

This does not, in our view, imply any consent on the part of the user to allow Facebook to speak on their behalf as you have done, urging TRAI to hear 'the voice of the millions of Indians'."

This comes after TRAI chairman RS Sharma said last month, that the comments received by Facebook in support of its ‘Free Basics’ scheme will not influence the TRAI's view, as the consultation paper was not on Facebook's scheme.

Speaking to The Hindu, Sharma had said “Consultation papers are not opinion polls. We are not getting an opinion poll… Consultation paper always asks a question, seeking responses with justification. We expect stakeholders who participate in the process to provide meaningful inputs to us…We have asked a question on differential pricing and people have responded saying they love Free Basics.”

Meanwhile, The Wire reported that:

"Facebook has alleged that a majority of the comments and responses that it had collated and sent to TRAI in response to the regulator’s consultation paper were not received by TRAI because an 'individual with access to the TRAI email account designated to accept comments' took action that blocked receipt of all emails from Facebook."

An IANS report quoted Agneshwar Sen, advisor for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as saying: 

With the Free Basics, the only issue is that there is a platform which is deciding for you what you are going to see for free and for what you are going to pay and are they the guys to decide it for you.

He also went on to say "What we feel bad in TRAI is that there was an opportunity for so many people to tell us. If 20 lakh people tell me that I don't want the whole of the internet, I just want, say Mark Zuckerberg, or the government of India or department of telecom, to tell me what I am going to see or not going to see... fair enough. But if I am going to tell you I don't want them to stop me, then that's the direction we go."

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