TRAI vs Facebook: The net neutrality debate takes a new turn

TRAI sent a letter to Facebook condemning the company's practices and Facebook responded.

Published Date
21 - Jan - 2016
| Last Updated
21 - Jan - 2016
 
TRAI vs Facebook: The net neutrality debate takes a new turn

The ongoing debate over net neutrality and Facebook’s Free Basics campaign now has telecom regulator TRAI directly facing off against the social networking giant. Facebook accused TRAI of having blocked emails from users of the social network, because of which, the telecom regulator hasn’t received bulk of the responses that came through Facebook’s campaigns on its website. Here’s how things rolled out.

Facebook’s side of things..

In a letter written to TRAI, by Ankhi Das, Facebook’s Director for Public Policy in India and South Asia, wrote that someone in the TRAI office had blocked emails Facebook users were sending through the social network, with their views on differential pricing. The responses were sent through Facebook’s public campaign, asking users to defend Free Basics by sending their comments directly to TRAI. According to Facebook, the comments from users were blocked on December 17, preventing any further comments from being received by TRAI post that. The last date for sending in responses to TRAI was December 30, which was later extended to January 7.

What TRAI said..

Responding to Facebook’s letter, K.V. Sebastian, Joint Advisor (F&EA), issued a letter, which explained that Facebook’s standard template for responses do not address the issues raised in TRAI’s consultation paper. Sebastian questioned Facebook, asking why, if Facebook’s emails were blocked, did it take the company so much time to bring it to TRAI’s notice. The strongly worded letter also says that Facebook’s urging has reduced TRAI’s efforts to learn the users’ view into a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”.

Sebastian wrote, “Your urging has the flavour of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” He also added that the social giant’s campaign was ‘wholly misplaced’. “Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warants such an interpretation which, if accepted, has dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India.”

Further, he also added, “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.” The letter stated that Facebook didn’t have the authority to speak for all of its users, saying, “Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to Trai using your platform. It is noticed that you have not been authorised by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively. No disclosure in the act of sending a message to Trai using your platform to this effect has been issued to users.”

You can read TRAI's letter to Facebook's Ankhi Das, here.

Where did it all begin?

While disclosing the number of responses it got for its consultation paper, TRAI mention that it received 24 lakh responses, including 13.5 lakh from supportfreebasics.com and 5.44 lakh comments from facebookmail.com. In addition, there were 4.84 lakh comments from Save The Internet and other forums. TRAI said that many of these responses from Facebook users were in support of a specific product — Free Basics — when the consultation paper didn’t address any particular product. Facebook’s Ankhi Das on the other hand, claimed that there were 1.6 crore responses send through the social network, supporting Free Basics, out of which 40 lakh had answered specific questions from TRAI’s consultation paper.

What’s your take on the entire matter? Do you support free basics? Do you think it’s against net neutrality?

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