net neutrality1

We list developments around Net Neutrality which we missed from the last week of December and early January chronologically:

27 December 2015:
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is aiming to solve issues with Net Neutrality* in the country by early this year (2016), reports ET. TRAI will evaluate issues part by part and come up with final guidelines based on the submissions of stakeholders this year. It has received over 570,000 comments from individuals, out of which the report cites, over 550,000 came through Facebook’s campaign.

28 December 2015:
Mark Zuckerberg wrote an editorial in the Times of India, headlined ‘Free Basics protects net neutrality’ where he said that in order to connect a billion people, “India must choose facts over fiction.” (Note: On the same day, Nikhil Pahwa, MediaNama’s founder and editor, wrote an editorial in the same newspaper defending net neutrality and highlighting the concerns with Free Basics.)

Zuckerberg compared the services in Free Basics with free public libraries, public hospitals and free basic education. He added that roughly one out of 10 people connected to the internet is lifted out of poverty. “Research shows that the biggest barriers to connecting people are affordability and awareness of the internet. Many people can’t afford to start using the internet. But even if they could, they don’t necessarily know how it can change their lives,” he wrote.

Related reads:
– Quartz’s Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet and
– Are the one million RCom users on Internet.org first time Internet users?

Facebook claims that Free Basics is tied with over 35 telecom operators, connecting 15 million people. It also claims that half the people who used Free Basics “to go online for the first time” pay to get full access to the internet within 30 days, adding that “data from more than five years of other programs that offer free access to Facebook, WhatsApp and other services shows the same.”

Zuckerberg’s editorial highlights that Free Basics is not a walled garden, neither does it violate net neutrality, nor become a platform with limited choices. Zuckerberg states that Free Basics was not about Facebook’s commercial interests because it did not serve any ads.

Related read: What Facebook’s Free Basics Campaign Means for Public Policy

30 December 2015:

Indian startup founders write to TRAI: Founders of Indian startups like Zomato, Paytm, MouthShut, SVG Media, TrulyMadly, FlipClass, Teesort, Metis Learning and Goqii have written to TRAI to stop telecom and content providers from gatekeeping and offering restricted access to the internet, reports ET.

In their collective letter drafted by the Software Freedom Law Centre, the founders said that the open nature of the internet allowed innovation and startups to flourish, including their own, without any entry barriers. They added that differential pricing led to the splitting of the internet, affecting the ability of competition in the market.

IIT and IISc teachers voice support for net neutrality: Teachers of computer science and scientists from Indian institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) offered their support for net neutrality in India, reports Business Standard. The report added that in their joint letter to the TRAI, teachers and scientists said that Free Basics led to lack of freedom on how Indians could use their public utility (the internet) and the ‘free’ in Free Basics came at the cost of the users, given it was a marketing gimmick. The letter also mentioned Facebook could decrypt content in basic apps and become a security threat for users.

Related read: Scroll’s Chart: Only 2 out of every 100 Facebook users in India support Free Basics

31 December 2015:

NASSCOM and IAMAI oppose differential pricing: Industry bodies NASSCOM and IAMAI said that they are opposed to differential pricing of data services which violates net neutrality, according to an ET report. This was in response to the TRAI’s second consultation paper which was released last month. Both the bodies, whose members include national and international internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, opposed blanket enablement of differential pricing, but NASSCOM said that some situations may be subject to discount tariffs for some online services like emergency services. The ET report cites that neither body mentioned Free Basics in its submission.

Deadline for submissions extended: The TRAI extended the last date of submissions for its second paper on net neutrality in India by a week from 30 December 2015 to 7 January 2016 and will accept counter comments till 14 January 2016, according to an ET report.

TRAI asks Free Basics supporters to give relevant comments: The TRAI said that it would reply to people who commented through a template supporting Free Basics to explain their stand by the questions of differential data pricing asked in the consultation paper, reports ET.

R S Sharma, the TRAI chairman, said that it received 18.27 lakh (1.87 million) responses in support of Free Basics, out of which 8.9 lakh (890,000) were through phone (Facebook has a toll free number where people can call to lodge support), and 5.44 lakh (544,000) through Facebook mail, but not answering the questions asked in its paper.

TRAI received 3.81 lakh (381,000) comments from supporters of net neutrality. It said that although supporters of net neutrality also sent templates with minor variations, it did not feel the need to reply to them. In addition, the regulator has received 12,000 messages which are not template based, but it is also not clear if those comments are in favour or opposed to net neutrality in India.

Free Basics shut down in Egypt: The Egyptian government shut down Free Basics in the country, supposedly because Facebook did not renew a necessary permit, reports TechCrunch. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the service had been shut down but did not cite the statement for the shutdown. Facebook claims to have 3 million users in Egypt.

Flipkart supports net neutrality: Online ecommerce player Flipkart said that it supports net neutrality and should apply equally to all Indian companies, reports ET. Flipkart also said that all content on the internet should be treated equally, but did not comment on Free Basics.

1 Jan 2016:
In a follow up report, ET cited TRAI as saying that the 14 lakh messages it received from people supporting Free Basics would not be counted since the responses did not include answers to the specific questions asked in its consultation paper. It added that the comments came due to Facebook’s TV, print and other campaigns and respected the responses it got, but would extend the deadline for them to provide specific responses.

Our comprehensive net neutrality coverage here.

Also read:

Facebook is Misleading Indians With its Full-page Ads About Free Basics

Facebook’s Rebuttal to Mahesh Murthy on Free Basics, with Replies

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: Viggy Prabhu