Facebook, in a bid to push its Internet.org initiative – disguised as Free Basics – might have over stated its claim that 11 million people favoured the social network’s two tiered service.
According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Facebook’s claims are hard to justify as the telecom authority itself stating that it somehow never received 9.1 million responses from the citizens of India.
Facebook invested quite a sum on advertising its Free Basics service, which was met with severe criticism as Internet.Org. On various forms of media, Facebook advocated the plus points of the service and told net neutrality supporters to consider its suggestions before embarking on a say no to Free Basics campaign. Through the Facebook domain and support free basiscs.in website, Facebook invited responses from citizens of this country.
Facebook is supported by telecommunications giant, Reliance Communications and had launched the Internet.Org service in partnership with the company back in 2015. The service was launched in several states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and Telangana. Included in the service was a free access to news, travel, jobs, sports, health, and local government information on the internet.
Following its launch the service met with severe backlash, which forced TRAI to order Reliance to stop Free Basics in December.
TRAI even went on to publish a report titled ‘Differential Pricing for Data Services’. Through this paper, TRAI required the stakeholders to answer four questions relating to the net neutrality debate. The questions included are: Whether differential pricing should be allowed for data usage over different websites, apps, and platforms; what measures could be adopted to protect non-discrimination, transparency, affordable internet access, competition, and innovation if differential pricing were allowed; alternative methods for providing free internet; and whether there were any other issues that should be considered for differential pricing.
In response to this paper, TRAI received close to 2.4 million responses, out of which 1.35 million were from support free basics.in website, other 544,000 were through the Facebook mail platform.
TRAI claims that responses received through either Facebook or support free basics.in failed to answer any of the four questions clearly. TRAI even termed them as template responses.
As the responses did not give an exact picture of the opinion of India’s population, TRAI sent a letter to Facebook on January 1, stating that the social network communicate to its users that the answers should be clear and precise, otherwise the responses will not be used by TRAI for consultation.
In a response, Facebook stated a week later that over 11 million respondents favoured Free Basics in their responses.
We are pleased to inform you that our records show that more than 11 million people sent TRAI an email supporting digital equality and Free Basics. We believe the answers already address your questions, as the comments clearly support rules that will allow Free Basics to continue to operate under any regulatory regime,
Facebook’s response came just a day before the submission date, which was on January 7. This left TRAI no choice but to end the process and raise doubts about the extent of claims made by company. “We are unable to make out whether you have communicated TRAI’s message to all users who had earlier sent their responses to us through platforms provided by you,” adding that “TRAI would like to convey its disappointment to Facebook on the issue, as we do not have the benefit of [receiving relevant responses from] such a large number of users … not even a single revised response has come from any such user.”
TRAI opined that either Facebook’s claim is overstated or that it never received 9.1 million responses.
Your response also claims that more than 11 million people have sent emails to TRAI supporting digital equality and free basics. However, as per our records, the number of responses received through both platforms as on 6th January 2016 is only 18.90 lakhs (1.89 million).