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Trai slams Facebook over ‘Free Basics’ campaign

| PAWAN BALI
Published : Jan 21, 2016, 12:11 am IST
Updated : Jan 21, 2016, 12:11 am IST

Telecom regulator Trai seems to have been irked over the manner Facebook carried out a campaign in the country to save its zero-rating platform “Free Basics”.

Telecom regulator Trai seems to have been irked over the manner Facebook carried out a campaign in the country to save its zero-rating platform “Free Basics”.

In a letter to Facebook, Trai suggested that it sees it as an attempt to turn the whole debate into a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”, something which could have “dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India.”

However, Facebook India alleged that it’s being singled out.

The issue of “Free Basics” came into forefront after Trai issued a consultation paper on whether telecom operators should be allowed to charge consumers differently for accessing different websites or apps. Trai had also asked Reliance Communications to keep Free Basics in abeyance till the issue on differential pricing is sorted out.

In turn, Facebook had launched a marketing blitz and had also asked its users to send automated email (template response) in support of Free Basics to Trai.

In a letter to Facebook, Trai said that the template response sent by the social media giant users does not address the questions raised in the consultation paper.

Trai said that the purpose of its consultation paper was to foster a transparent regulatory environment. Trai said that if such interpretation is accepted, this will have “dangerous ramification for policy making in India.

“However your urging has the flavour of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll,” said Trai in the letter. Trai said that if such interpretation is accepted, this will have “dangerous ramification for policy making in India.

“Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to Trai using your platform. It is noticed that you have not been authorised by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively,” said Trai.

In an earlier letter, Trai had asked Facebook to ask its users who had sent emails in support of Free Basics to specifically answer questions raised in the consultation paper.

“However, your response is silent on whether the text of Trai’s communication was shared with such users as was specifically requested by Trai,” said the regulator.

Trai said that the communication of such text was vital in demonstrating and ensuring that those who are responding to Trai are making informed decisions. It said that it believes that Facebook didn’t convey its communication to those who had sent responses to the regulator using social media giant’s platform.

“We would note that we are not aware of a similar request (from Trai) having been made to any other commentator who did not answer these specific questions,” said Facebook in its reply. It said that the original comments submitted were responsive to the general questions raised in the consultation paper, which clearly covers such topics as the Free Basics programme.

On Facebook allegations that it could not deliver messages to Trai after December 17 as it was blocked, regulator said that this should have been brought to its notice immediately for appropriate steps to be taken.

Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi