Judgement day is approaching for the fate of net neutrality in India. As Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) gears up to frame the net neutrality rules, telecom operators have favoured differential pricing for data services. Nearly 80% replies to the regulator’s consultation process follow the Facebook ‘templates’ for its controversy-ridden Free Basics platform.
Net Neutrality activists continue to oppose any differential pricing regime, saying it would amount to curbs on freedom of choice to access Internet. At the same time, Facebook has executed a massive campaign to project its Free Basics platform as a tool to spread connectivity.
On analysing the record 24 lakh comments received by the TRAI to its consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, shows that 18.94 lakh replies were in support of Free Basics, of which 13.5 lakh were through ‘@supportfreebasics.in’ and without the senders’ individual e-mail IDs, while further 5.44 lakh comments have come from ‘@facebookmail.com’.
On the other hand, the Net Neutrality campaigners have submitted merely 4.84 lakh comments through forums like ‘Save the Internet’.
Besides that, there are comments from telecom and Internet service providers, industry bodies and individuals.
The telecom operators including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Reliance Communications and their respective associations have supported differential pricing for data services, while Internet service providers have opposed it.
Reliance Jio has not submitted its comments on the matter.
The debate on net neutrality stirred across the country after Airtel decided to charge separately for Internet-based calls but withdrew after customers protested. The debate was revived after Airtel launched free Internet platform Airtel Zero and Facebook launched its Internet.org (now called Free Basics).
Nasscom said issues concerning differential pricing for data services need careful consideration because of their possible impact on net neutrality. They added that data plans offered by telecom companies to the consumer has to be neutral between their own and competing Internet platforms and services.