Facebook says Free Basics initiative ‘non-discriminatory’

A day after telecom regulator sought views on differential pricing for data services with an emphasis on ensuring non-discrimination, transparency, affordable Internet access, Facebook said that its ‘Free Basics’ initiative, originally known as Internet.Org, is “non- discriminatory.”

For Free Basics, Facebook has partnered with Reliance Communications in India to offer access to certain applications and websites to users without any data charges. However, it has been widely criticised for violating Net Neutrality principles and favouring Facebook’s own services over its rivals.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had on Wednesday issued a consultation paper on differential pricing for data services to telecom operators, who offer free or discounted tariffs for accessing certain websites. TRAI has asked stakeholders as to what steps should be taken to ensure that principles of non-discrimination, transparency, affordable Internet access, competition, market entry and innovation are adhered to, in case differential pricing is allowed for data services.

“During the consultation process, we hope the focus is on the issues that matter most… We hope those involved in this discussion consider the broader consequences of halting or limiting programs that help people connect and improve their lives,” said Kevin Martin, Vice President, Mobile and Global Access Policy at Facebook.

Facebook was committed to working with TRAI to uphold the principles of affordable and innovative internet access for India in a fair and consistent manner, Mr. Martin said. Free Basics, Mr Martin said, is bringing more people online by serving as a bridge to the full, paid Internet.

“We listened to the initial concerns and changed Free Basics. So the program is non-discriminatory, non-exclusive and open to all developers. Finally, there is no doubt that Free Basics is already helping people,” he said, adding that many thousands of people have applied for jobs as a result of the program, while healthcare information has been accessed millions of times on Free Basics.

In October, during his first town-hall in India, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg had also voiced support for zero-rating models, pointing out that this model is needed to get everyone online.