Unless you've completely shut yourself off from social media (in which case, good for you!), you must have seen Facebook's wide push for Free Basics, urging its users to send a message to India's telecommunication regulatory body TRAI to ensure its support for its controversial programme. So TRAI decided to write back to Facebook. In a 5-paged letter, TRAI basically chided Facebook for not sending any clear response to it which are clear answers to the questions it asked in the consultation paper released on 9 December 2015.
TRAI released a consultation paper in December which asked for opinions of the stakeholder on the differential pricing. Facebook ran a big marketing campaign which included ads on the internet, TV, hoardings and a campaign on Facebook requesting users to send a message to TRAI supporting free basics using the platform.
Mark Zuckerburg even wrote a lengthy post to the people of India defending Free Basics. The deadline to send views on the paper was 30 December 2015 but later it was extended to 7th January 2016.
TRAI had sent a letter to Facebook on 1 January 2016, asking it to clarify if the users have been informed properly of the questionnaire. On 6 January, Facebook responded with a letter and TRAI reverted with another letter asking them to clarify the comments as they were not in the format TRAI had asked for. Facebook finally responded on 13 January and the latest letter by TRAI is the response to that. Here are the salient points of the letter.
- TRAI says that the communication from Facebook to the users was not clear. The responses received were not in the line of the questions asked by TRAI.
- TRAI also said if Facebook's responses were not going through to TRAI's email (firstname.lastname@example.org) since 17th December why the authorities were informed after 25 days.
- Point 5 of the letter says in a meeting with Facebook representatives TRAI was given responses in a pen-drive, and it will consider all the appropriate ones.
- The template response from the Facebook users which is said to support 'Free basics' and 'Digital equality' is not clearly giving any answers to the original 4 questions.
- TRAI stated that apart from the response on 7th of the January none of the Facebook responses are constructed in a non-compliant format. Notably, against Facebook's claim if 16 million responses TRAI had just registered 14 lakh messages as stated in an earlier letter.
- The authorities also called out Facebook for conducting highly regulated opinion polls. They said this kind of practices will be dangerous for policy-making in India.
- Facebook was also trashed for sending emails without taking the consent of the users about the content. TRAI asked Facebook to stop being the flagbearer of the user responses.
While the trail of responses is still going on between TRAI and Facebook, Free Basics still remains temporarily banned in India.
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