A day after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) extended the deadline for receiving comments on its paper on differential data pricing, TRAI chairman RS Sharma on Thursday said 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 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.”
He also went on to say "Respecting the fact that they are 13 lakh people, we have extended the deadline for them to come up with the right answers, not just saying, I love Free Basics. I never asked about Free Basics.”
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.
The extension of the deadline to January 7 came a day after many faculty members of Computer science and allied subjects of leading Indian institutes such as the IITs and IISc also wrote an open letter to TRAI, asking it to reject Facebook’s service in the interest of the public.
BJD MP Baijayant Jay Panda also shot off a letter batting for netneutrality and added that the mechanism used by Facebook to garner support "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."
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.
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.
Meanwhile, the team behind 'Save the internet', the main campaign for net neutrality, in a joint statement, said "We welcome the TRAI's decision to give the supporters of FreeBasics an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the consultation process by answering the questions posed by the TRAI. Those who support services like Airtel Zero and FreeBasics can also use the tool at www.savetheinternet.in, write their own answers, and send them to the TRAI."