A war of letters broke out between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and Facebook over what the regulator called the social networking giant’s “crude” attempt at turning the consultation over differential pricing of data services into an “orchestrated opinion poll” on its Free Basics product.
The social networking site hit back in a statement on Wednesday, stressing that the expression of support for Free Basics is “highly relevant” to the debate. Facebook said it “attempted to cooperate” with TRAI.
In a strongly-worded communiqué uploaded on its website on Tuesday night, TRAI slammed Facebook’s approach to the consultation on differential pricing of data services, the irrelevance of template submissions from millions of its users backing Free Basics and the nature of consent it had obtained from these users.
“…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,” wrote K.V. Sebastian, Joint Adviser at TRAI, in a January 18 letter to Ms. Ankhi Das, Director, Public Policy, Facebook.
“Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation which, if accepted, has dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India,” Mr. Sebastian warned, terming “wholly misplaced” Facebook’s continued assertion that initial template responses sent by users in support of ‘digital equality’ and ‘Free Basics’ were appropriate responses to the consultation paper.
Differential data pricing: All you need to know
The policymakers have to not only decide the fate of services such as Free Basics but also find ways to deliver digital equality fast.
We need to provide full Internet at prices people can afford, not privilege private platforms. This is where India’s regulatory system has to step in.
"There is no guarantee that the good faith promise Facebook has made today to protect Free Basics users’ privacy will be permanent.”
He appeared in a video to personally promote Free Basics and also wrote a personal appeal in one of the leading newspapers.
"We expect the stakeholders who participate to provide meaningful inputs on this issue,” TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma told The Hindu.
Atleast 40 faculty members so far have signed the petition lambasting Free Basics as 'misleading' and 'flawed'.
The last date for submission of comments has been pushed to Jan 7, while last date for counter-comments pushed to January 14.