Soon after drafting a consultation paper on zero-rating plans and receiving more than 6 lakh comments on the same, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has ordered Reliance Communications to halt its agreement with Facebook to provide Free Basics in India for some time.
A senior government official said –
We have asked them (Reliance Communications) to stop it and they have given us a compliance report that it has been stopped.
Facebook Despite of TRAI saying that the service has been stopped, Reliance users can still access Facebook and other services under Free Basics as they earlier used to. As per sources, Reliance was ordered to pause the service two weeks before itself.
It all started when Bharti Airtel witnessed a severe backlash on and off the social media when it tried to step against the basic principles of net neutrality. TRAI and Flipkart, which were in full support of Airtel’s intentions, were condemned for their wrongful stand. Flipkart had to pull off its partnership and support from Airtel’s project.
Facebook powered “Free Basics”, earlier known as Internet.org, has yet again been, the center of attraction in this debate. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had drafted a consultation paper to determine whether services like Free Basics, that provides free internet access for certain websites by associating with telecom operators, are legal as per law or not.
Despite Zuckerberg’s attempt to defend the project repeatedly, TRAI questioned the legality of this project. The ‘consultation paper on differential pricing for data services’ had sought comments latest by December 30 and counter comments by January 7. However, TRAI has ordered a halt way before the time period ended.
Although, Zuckerberg’s intentions are noble, running a free service inspires other entities like telecom operators to go against net neutrality in not a very meaningful way. We did see that with Bharti Airtel. For the same reason, Free Basics has been criticized by activists and other entities in India.
TRAI will now review the validity of Facebook’s Free Basics and will run the service again only if it finds it complying with the net neutrality debate. On the sidelines, Facebook has been running a campaign for Free Basics to bring aboard as many supporters as it can.
Apart from the telecom regulator, a parliamentary committee is also finalizing recommendations on net neutrality, which should also address the issues around zero-rated platforms such as Free Basics.