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Here’s Why And How India Is Battling Against Facebook’s Free Basics

Ever since India’s telecom regulator TRAI released information in a consultation paper about zero-rating, the telecom industry stood for data subsidies for a user by an operator or a content maker. But who uses zero-rating? Free Basics, Facebook’s controversial programme to connect a billion Indians to the internet.

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Free basics shall give users selective access to services like Facebook, communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information — all without data charges.

TRAI for the same had invited stakeholders for comments on the issue with December 30th being the said deadline.Therefore, where facebook has launched a million dollar promotion campaign through newspaper ads and hoardings, the Indian internet, on the other hand has been waging a war of its own in a last-minute rush to gather support and prevent Free Basics from becoming a reality, which, they say, splits the open internet into free and paid tiers.

Here’s how Indians on the internet are opposing Free Basics.

1. About 50 IIT and IISc faculty members released a statement on December 29 highlighting the flaws in Facebook’s Free Basics programme. The statement released on Tuesday says that Free Basics is a lethal combination that will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians can use their own public utility, the Internet.

The statement points out three major flaws in Free Basics that include how misleading the word ‘free’ in Free Basics is, how it allows Facebook to snoop on the data of all the websites and services that participate, and how it allows Facebook to set the definition of what is a ‘basic’ internet service.

2. PayTM, one of the largest Indian startups, has sponsored SaveTheInternet.in ads on Tata Sky and Dish TV. PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma has been a vocal supporter of net neutrality.

3. Net Neutrality supporters are appearing on TV debates and attempting to take the debate mainstream. Venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy, who has challenged Facebook’s claims about Free Basics on his LinkedIn blog multiple times, appeared on ICNN-IBN’s 9 PM prime time broadcast India at 9.

4. A group of nine Indian startup founders including Deepinder Goyal of Zomato, Vishal Gondal of GOQii, Faisal Farooqui of Mouthshut, and Sachin Bhatia of Truly Madly, havewritten a joint letter to the TRAI R S Sharma, requesting the regulator to “to issue clear regulations preventing telecom providers or content providers from acting as gate-keepers”. According to net neutrality activists, startups would be severely impacted if zero-rated programmes like Free Basics are allowed in India since zero-rating doesn’t create a level-playing field.

5. An enthusiastic community of net neutrality supporters on Reddit has created its own versions of Facebook’s full-page newspapers ads for Free Basics. Check them out below.

Inputs from HT

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