Reliance Communications will continue to test Facebook’s free internet service on its CDMA network even as it suspends the 1 million customers on its GSM network, as ordered by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
Reliance Communication had rolled out Interent.org, Facebook’s free internet service that has been renamed as Free Basics, on its GSM network a year ago and rapidly gained customers. It started CDMA testing recently and informed the Trai about it. “That is when the Trai said no commercial rollout of Free Basics should be done until further notification,” a Reliance Communications executive said on the condition of anonymity.
Free Basics provides free access to stripped-down versions of 28 websites. “As directed by the Trai, commercial launch of Free Basics has been kept in abeyance till they consider all details and convey a specific approval,” said a Reliance Communications spokesperson. Reliance Communications is Free Basics’ only telecommunications partner in India.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We are committed to Free Basics and to working with Reliance and the relevant authorities to help people in India get connected.”
There was another free internet service proposed, this one by Airtel, and called Airtel Zero to provide users free access to a bunch of websites, which paid Airtel for the service. This service has been lying dormant without any users ever since a furore broke out against a perceived violation of the net neutrality principle, which says that all data traffic on the internet should be treated equally.
Unlike in Airtel Zero, companies do not have to pay to be on Free Basics. The common sentiment across the two platforms is that the free service will hook users who might later go on to pay for them.
A committee set up by the department of telecommunications has submitted a draft report on net neutrality that suggests leaving decisions on services such as Airtel Zero for the Trai to decide. Experts say that until the debate is settled no one will spend money on these platforms.
The Trai has prepared a consultation paper that will be put up for responses from December 28 to January 4.