Facebook reaction to save its Free Basics platform in the country in light of telecom watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on differential pricing has has not gone down well with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The PMO is irked as Facebook had said that it feels that the government’s final stand on net neutrality will reflect its commitment to free and fair and democratic access to Internet, Economic Times reported quoting sources.
According to the report, a high-powered committee headed by telecommunications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and comprising Jitendra Singh, minister of state for PMO, and science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan is scheduled to meet after TRAI submits its recommendations on differential pricing of data tariffs which is expected any day.
Sources also said that the panel is keeping a close tab on the next steps taken by Facebook to pitch and save its ‘Free Basics’ platform that aims to provide Internet to most people in the country.
However, a source familiar with the discussions said that the PMO was forming a stand that no platform, no matter how popular, to monopolise any information system in the country as it can have far-reaching social, political and economic ramifications.
“If a public platform is allowed to do so in any manner, it can hold significant power to sway and shape public opinion too,” ET quoted the person as saying. He added that the panel has already discussed the option of the government providing some amount of mobile Internet data free to first-time users and paying for free data packs along the lines of LPG subsidy using the direct benefit transfer mechanism.
Facebook’s Free Basics has come under heavy flak since its inception in the country. It had engaged in a war of words with TRAI regarding net neutrality and differential pricing. On December 9, Facebook had started a mass campaign on its platform asking users to support Free Basics and urged them to email TRAI declaring their support of “digital equality” only to be warned by TRAI to not turn the consultation process into an opinion poll.