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Facebook releases new set of responses in support of Free Basics

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After the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) rejected the 14 lakh messages sent by people supporting Free Basics (previously known as Internet.org), Facebook has incorporated a new set of responses to send to the TRAI supporting the service in India. The TRAI also extended the deadline to allow supporters of Free Basics to provide specific responses to its questions on differential pricing of data services.

The TRAI had rejected responses in support of Free Basics (FB) because the responses did not include answers to specific questions asked in its second consultation paper on net neutrality in India. The regulator added that although it respected the responses it got, the responses were due to Facebook running TV, print and other campaigns in support of Free Basics.

Here’s a lowdown on the set of answers Facebook users can send to support the service:

– Facebook says that differential pricing programs (especially zero rating programs like Free Basics) should not be banned, because they provide free access to internet services like communication, education, healthcare and employment etc.

– “With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, banning programs like Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people,” the text says.

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Question 1:  Should the TSPs be allowed to have differential pricing for data usage for accessing different websites, applications or platforms?

Facebook’s response: “It is not clear that the Free Basics program should be considered as differential pricing, but even if it is, Free Basics should be allowed under any regulatory framework adopted by TRAI.” The answer adds that Free Basics is pro-consumer, pro-competition, non exclusive and available to all operators on the same terms and conditions (T&C). It also states that FB is open and non discriminatory, does not charge for accessing content, is transparent and does not pay carriers to exempt content from usage limits.

Question 2: If differential pricing for data usage is permitted, what measures should be adopted to ensure that the principles of non-discrimination, transparency, affordable Internet access, competition and market entry and innovation are addressed?

Facebook’s response: The company states that FB meets all criteria of helping expand connectivity, is free for both consumers and content providers, non exclusive to operators, open to content providers and transparent of its practices and hence should be considered.

Question 3:  Are there alternative methods/technologies/business models, other than differentiated tariff plans, available to achieve the objective of providing free Internet access to the consumers? If yes, please suggest/describe these methods/technologies/business models.  Also, describe the potential benefits and disadvantages associated with such methods/technologies/business models.

Facebook’s response: Facebook says that there are various models to provide free internet access to consumers, but FB should be allowed under any regulatory framework. It adds that Free Basics brings new users onto the carrier’s mobile network, at 50% faster than before the launch of FB. It also reiterates that in countries where FB was launched, more than 50% of users coming online through FB chose to pay for data and access the full internet within 30 days.

Question 4: Is there any other issue that should be considered in the present consultation on differential pricing for data services?

Facebook’s response: The company says that since 80% of India’s 1.2 billion people are not connected, “the TRAI must ensure that regulatory intervention does not end up depriving people of the opportunity to come online.” According to Facebook, the TRAI needs to “create a regulatory environment where access-expanding programs can flourish.”

Disclosures: MediaNama has taken a strong position in favor of Net Neutrality and against price discrimination; Founder and editor of Medianama Nikhil Pahwa is a volunteer with the SaveTheInternet coalition.

Image Credit: Nikhil Pahwa

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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