WHEN FREE BECOMES A FORTRESS!
Amidst the month long New Year celebrations of 2016, the controversial battle for the safekeeping of “Free Basics” was taking a wild turn. For the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the month of January was quite busy with floating papers, debates and what not. And by February they were hip deep with millions of grievances. But even after being under tremendous pressure the Authority came to an equitable decision that
supported Net Neutrality and effectively banned Free Basics. This led to the end of the zero-rating platforms in India.
At the outset Free Basics, developed by Facebook may sound like a mantra of terrific revolution in today’s world of internet but when we move a little closer we would be able to clearly identify the ragged edges. What started as Internet.org and later changed into Free Basics, launched nearly 2 years ago, is an open forum that invites developers to make their services free of cost to those who can’t afford internet connection which is more or less like a zero-rating platform. According to Facebook it is an open playground for innovation but harnessed with a selective nature. It all sounds quite cheery to hear but the crux of the matter lies in the fact that free basics does not provide equal and non-discriminatory access to all services. It is basically a selective access to a set of application developers which results in a huge hindrance to net neutrality.
Coming to the current scenario in India, Facebook wanted to launch Free Basics in India in February, 2015 by partnering with Reliance Communications. Alas! By December the matter had changed completely. After receiving eons of criticisms regarding Free Basics, TRAI got involved. And then started a series of events to resolve the issue. But when the situation did not get any better, TRAI asked Reliance communications to keep its launch on hold. Later on the authority held an Open-house discussion regarding the differential pricing of data services and encouraged the participation of telecom operators, consumer rights groups, industry bodies and individuals. And this discussion led to the ruling against Free Basics.
TRAI ruled in favour of Net Neutrality, which specifies that no developer shall allow biased pricing for data services and banned any arrangement that includes differential pricing. The Authority going a little further added special reduction of tariff for accessing or providing services during emergency. The ruling even included penal provisions in case of violations.
This ruling may seem a little harsh in the eyes of some but the ultimate aim is progressive. The decision speaks volume about the intelligence of the bureaucrats in prophesying a better developed India than a present full of chaos and divided bridges. Our country has a large population of people using internet and service providers. And the numbers keep on increasing day by day. By taking this decision, the Authority made it mandatory for the service providers to keep the internet bias-free and open to all.
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