Outcry against ‘attempt to control Internet’

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India urged to favour net neutrality over Free Basics

Updated - March 24, 2016 12:48 pm IST

Published - December 30, 2015 12:00 am IST - Hyderabad:

A massive campaign launched against Free Basics in Hyderabad on Tuesday.— Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

A massive campaign launched against Free Basics in Hyderabad on Tuesday.— Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Remember that ‘ping’ on Facebook which intimates the user that some among your online friends have signed the FB petition on Free Basics implementation in the country? Around 1,000 people — students, free software/source activists and academics — held a meet and a rally against this very petition and the Free Basics cause here on Tuesday.

Naming the FB campaign “a corporation’s attempt to control Internet usage including content and pattern” in the country, the organisers asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to favour net neutrality over Free Basics.

The singing, sloganeering, banner bearing protesters who had started an online campaign, ‘Say No to Free Basics’ on December 23 had garnered the support of students from three city-based engineering colleges and academics from two technology research institutes, including the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU).

As per FB’s online petition that urges users to send a letter to TRAI supporting Free Basics, the service will allow “people access to vital services, such as communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information – all without data charges. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help with getting started online”.

But organisers of the protest headed by Swecha, an affiliate of Free Software Movement of India, Free Basics would provide just handpicked internet data to new users and force millions of already existing users to either pay extra or altogether give up data usage that currently comes with no extra charges.

“Implementation of Free Basics can allow your service providers to ask you to pay for using Skype, Viber or Telegram or any video and audio sharing platform. It will kill neutral, democratic net usage,” said M. Siddhartha of Swecha.

TRAI should continue with the current system of internet usage in the country where people pay a fixed amount for a set data package where they are free to browse all that they want, organisers vouched.

As the Government of India has been working towards “open standards, open data and open source” since its digitization drive in 2012, “Why should it now hinder the fourth element “open access”? asked K.S. Rajan, Associate Professor, IIIT-Hyderabad as he vouched for net neutrality. “Free Basics is cartelisation of the internet where Facebook will decide what India’s rural poor or any other internet user should read, hear or watch online,” Mr. Rajan told The Hindu after his address at the event.

The meet also had the presence of free source supporters from other countries. “Facebook itself is built on free software. Here is a corporation telling your government to give you the ‘basic’ al-carte collection of data. Good luck with that!” said Mr. Jonas Smedegaard of Denmark who is affiliated with Debian.org, one of the first and widely used free operating systems and libraries.

Say No to Free Basics campaigners said there are other non-corporate ways to widen internet and data usage.

A free-hardware device called Magic Box or Swecha Box, developed in Hyderabad can provide at a cost of Rs. 50,000 life time cellular and data services to an entire village, they explained. Fifty villages in AP and Telangana will be fitted with the box in the coming months.

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