"This is a mass misinformation campaign"

Pressure builds on TRAI to dismiss Facebooks submissions based on notifications-campaign
news Net Neutrality Wednesday, December 30, 2015 - 12:49

Even as Facebook and net neutrality activists pitch in their best on the last day of TRAI consultation process over differential pricing and net neutrality, pressure is building on TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to exercise caution and even dismiss Facebook’s submission to the regulator.

TRAI’s decision based on this and previous rounds of consultation could have far-reaching impact on net-neutrality policy in India and Facebook’s Free Basics platform.

Over the past few weeks, Facebook users across India have received a notification informing them that either one or many of their friends have allowed Facebook to send a message to the TRAI asking them to support Free Basics in India.

Here is the full text of the letter which will be sent by Facebook to TRAI on your behalf if you sign the petition.

To the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,  I support digital equality for India.   Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can't afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile operators.  With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country's most vulnerable people.   I support Free Basics – and digital equality for India.  Thank you.

Net-neutrality activists who are opposing Free Basics stating that it violates the principles of a free internet are however now asking TRAI to not take Facebook’s submission at face value.

First, proponents of net neutrality allege that several users were misled into supporting Free Basics. “What Facebook has done was sneaky. They asked users to support Free Basics and digital equality without clearly explaining what the issue is, and we don’t know how exactly they are going to submit the text. Are they going to add their answers on differential pricing along with user-submissions? We don’t know,” says Bengaluru-based entrepreneur and NN activist Kiran Jonnalagadda.

“It is very clear that Facebook has been disingenuous in its communication to its users. Users have been misled. May who support net-neutrality have been made to support Free Basics. Friends of those who just scrolled down the page without submitting the petition have also been told that their friend has ‘supported’ Free Basics. This is a mass misinformation campaign,” says Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Medianama and a NN-proponent.

Secondly, it is argued that the submissions to Facebook on behalf of the users are invalid. “This round of TRAI consultation has specific queries on differential pricing which are supposed to be answered. The text of Facebook’s notification campaign has nothing on differential pricing, which makes all those submissions invalid,” adds Jonnalagadda.

In his submission to TRAI, Biju Janata Dal MP Baijayant Panda has also asked the regulator to be ‘prudent’ with Facebook's submissions. He writes,

Very recently, Facebook has been encouraging its users to send a standard response on the click of a button to TRAI, in support of Free Basics. However, it has been reported that this mechanism can be misleading. Facebook's move has been criticized on the ground that it might be resulting in people supporting Free Basics without realizing the implications for net neutrality. Hence, the volume of submissions in support of Free Basics should be assessed by TRAI with prudence.

“Facebook’s assault on the privacy of the Indian poor has reached the “do or die” stage and this disingenuity to buy de-anonymised packets of the Indian poor and slice up the internet to offer like TV channels spells doom for the budding start up culture in India. For Digital India to succeed, we need more of Vijay Shekhar's and Naveen Tiwari's,” says Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center

“Facebook is doing what is good for its business, TRAI must do what is good for India,” says Pahwa.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.