Is Free Basics Initiative to connect or disconnect?

By Jyoti Pathak (Student of Post-Grad in Journalism, class of 2015-2016)

This week has been crucial for Indian’s 400 million plus internet users. Hovering over all is the controversy surrounding Free Basics, the Facebook initiative being promoted so enthusiastically by founder Mark Zuckerberg.Today, in fact, is the start of counter comments from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which will end on January 14 and will be one more step towards the decision to allow Reliance Communication to launch the service or not. Journalism students of SPICE’s batch of 2015-2016 write about the issue.

Mumbai, January 6: India’s 400 million internet users have one more day to file their comments on the paper on differential data pricing, floated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) following the suspension of Facebook’s Free Basics initiative in the face of heavy criticism. The deadline ends tomorrow i.e. January 7. Thereafter till January 14, TRAI will start filing its counter comments.

Till a few days ago, more than 18.27 lakh comments had been filed and social media networks were full of the issue. TRAI has ordered Facebook’s operator partner Reliance Communications, to “put on hold” the Free Basics services in the India for now. Reliance Communications is the only cell carrier in India that currently offers Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ service. In particular, the regulator is concerned about whether phone carriers should be allowed to charge different prices for different content; in this case free for certain websites like Facebook and the cost of data for almost everything else.

The story began with Internet.org, a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six other companies (Samsung, Ericsson, Media Tek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that planned to offer affordable access to selected internet services. It was launched on August 20, 2013 by Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The internet.org was recently renamed ‘Free Basics’ and this will make the internet accessible to more people by providing them access to a range of the basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication and local government. Facebook claims that the initiative would allow people who cannot afford the internet to get information and connect with the world.

On the other side, a number of people and organizations are opposing it. This is because ‘Free Basics’ doesn’t mean free access to the whole internet, they say. Facebook would only be sponsoring access to a few select sites and apps, which it deems fit. This ‘condition’ has sparked the fight for net neutrality in India and some other countries. Critics have claimed that the Free Basics initiative directly contradicts the net neutrality rules, which were embraced by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) 2015. Net neutrality takes responsibility for an open internet atmosphere, which prohibits internet service providers to either favor or restrict access to any web content. This would also give the social media giant significant control over what sites and apps people access and would have unfavorable impact on a large number of websites and other companies especially tech-based startups. This has led to widespread opposition in India from a number of telecom operators and other organizations.

Bhaskaran Raman, a professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) of Madras, has posted on his Facebook page, a joint statement “Rejecting Facebook’s misleading and flawed ‘Free Basics’ proposal.” “Facebook is making fools of us,” says music director and singer Vishal Dadlani on a video he uploaded on his Facebook page. Dadlani, who has a Twitter following of more than 14 lakh, is known to be vocal about issues like corruption and gender imbalance and stands up for net neutrality in this video. He explains the hollowness of Free Basics claim regarding a free and fair internet and in just 1 minute 40 seconds, urges citizens not to become “victims of this scam”. Nandan Nilekani, former Infosys head, chairman of the Aadhar Commission, entrepreneur, bureaucrat and politician, accuses Free Basics of “going against the spirit of openness of internet in the guise of being pro-poor”.

Facebook has 130 million members in India out of which 3.2 million people have petitioned the TRAI in support of Free Basics. However, many of these have reportedly complained that they did not know what their support entailed. These groups now have a chance to reverse their support by lodging comments with TRAI.

Compiled from internet inputs.

Author

  • Odell is a Digital Marketing enthusiast and specializes in Content Marketing, Paid Advertising, Social Media Marketing & much more. He is also the Digital Marketing Manager at St Pauls Institute of Communication Education & founder of Rightly Digital, an online platform that helps people achieve their marketing goals

Is Free Basics Initiative to connect or disconnect?
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