There are mixed opinions coming out on the issue of Free Basics and Differential pricing for Internet usage in India. After Egypt banned Free Basics, speculations are rife that TRAI may completely reject this program inside India.
However, there are opinions which indicate that Free Basics maybe allowed for a year on experiment basis.
But as it says, truth is always stranger than fiction.
TRAI May Reject Free Basics
On the last day of 2015, Egypt surprised everyone as they unceremoniously banned Free Basics program in their country. This was sudden, and unexpected. Facebook announced this change, as they said “We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt”, adding, that they hope to “resolve this situation soon.”
Around 10 lakh Internet users from Egypt were hooked on the discriminatory program from Facebook.
Around a month after this news broke out, reports started emerging in Indian media that TRAI may permanently reject Free Basics in India.
Times of India said that a notification may come out soon, wherein TRAI will inform that all discriminatory and differential pricing plans would not be allowed in India. A source from TRAI shared, “These are discriminatory and are against the concept of digital democracy. We will not allow them,”
This speculation arose especially when telecom secretary Rakesh Garg was transferred, and was replaced by JS Deepak, the guy who created awareness regarding the infamous 2G scam involving A Raja. Positioning an anti-establishment secretary is an indication that Net Neutrality would be protected, and billion dollar enterprises won’t be allowed to enslave Internet.
Although, there has been no confirmation from TRAI regarding this update, this has definitely lifted the spirits of those who were dead against Free Basics and Airtel’s Zero Rating plans.
In fact, if TRAI indeed bans all differential pricing norms, then we may also witness closure of ‘WhatsApp Only’ and ‘Facebook Only’ plans as well, which are blatantly offered by telecom companies, violating principles of Net Neutrality.
But.. Can Government Allow Free Basics For A Year?
Mahesh Murthy, noted Venture Capitalist and campaigner for Net Neutrality has said in an interview that Facebook may be allowed to run their Free Basics program for a year; on an experimental basis.
From the interview, it seems that Indian Government doesn’t want a negative perception of our ‘Digital India’ program, and in order to pacify all, a middle path can be chosen.
Again, this is just an opinion of a noted VC, and nothing official has come out from TRAI or the Telecom Ministry. Some social media users on Reddit also pointed out that Mahesh’s statement can be a ‘pre-emptive’ move to negate any such decision from the Govt. (in case they are considering such an option).
In that interview, Mahesh rightly said, “Around 400 years ago, we had a group of merchants who came to India thrice asking for exclusive access to the country and they were refused. When they were given access, they ruled us. Now they have come back to us in the form of Facebook.”
We hope and believe that the Indian Government will out-rightly reject Free Basics and all such anti net-neutrality schemes in India, and help us to protect the integrity and freedom of Internet.
Stay tuned as more details come in regarding the battle to save Internet in India.
Do visit SaveTheInternet.in portal to get latest updates related with campaigns and notices pertaining to this issue.