The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has criticised popular social networking site Facebook, saying it was influencing the country’s policy-making process through a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”.
Also, the watchdog dismissed allegation that it has unsubscribed emails of millions of people containing support to Facebook’s controversial Free Basics concept that believes in spreading Internet connectivity using its platform in arrangement with telecom operators by offering free access to various websites on news, health, education and entertainment.
TRAI’s attempts to review the Free Basics service, which has gained public support, have triggered online outrage.
The telecom regulator reiterated that it believes in public consultation and questioned the responses sent by people using Facebook. TRAI said use of its platform does not “authorise” Facebook to speak on their behalf.
“Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation which, if accepted has dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India,” states the letter sent to Ankhi Das, director public policy, India, South and Central Asia, Facebook India.
At the same time, it promises to take into account all relevant responses that seek to answer questions raised in the consultation paper that Facebook submitted to TRAI.
TRAI had raised four questions on introduction of differential pricing that will determine the final recommendation on net neutrality.
It was not willing to discuss anymore on Facebook’s allegations and the subsequent response to these.
“I have nothing to add to what has been said in our reply (to Facebook) ... we will hold an open house on Thursday and will come out with our recommendations by the month-end,” TRAI chairman RS Sharma said.
In its letter to Facebook on Monday, TRAI attempted to deflect Facebook’s allegations on unsubscribing of emails. “... at no point of time does this mean that we will not take into account any relevant response, including comments and counter-comments submitted by Facebook qua stakeholder or any user using Facebook as a platform of the consultation process.”
The TRAI-Facebook slugfest is likely to get murkier if recommendations on Free Basics go against its continuity. This becomes pertinent since India with 1.2 billion people is a huge and important market for Facebook, which is yet to get support from the Chinese government.