TRAI's ruling yesterday prohibiting differential pricing has effectively put to bed Mark Zuckerberg's pet project FreeBasics. Under the new guideline, zero rating or different tariffs on services, based on content, have been outlawed. This means that products like FreeBasics and Airtel Zero are effectively illegal.
Zuckerberg took to Facebook yesterday to give his opinion on the TRAI ruling.
"Today India's telecom regulator decided to restrict programs that provide free access to data. This restricts one of Internet.org's initiatives, Free Basics, as well as programs by other organizations that provide free access to data. While we're disappointed with today's decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet," he wrote.
Responding to a comment on the importance of understanding local culture, Zuckerberg admitted that it was important to focus on local culture and empower local entrepreneurs.
"Internet.org has many programs and our Express Wi-fi program, which focuses on enabling local entrepreneurs to start their own wi-fi businesses, has been popular. We'll try to follow this model for other programs in the future as well," he replied.
Meanwhile, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook also gave her views on FreeBasics, "Free Basics works - millions of people around the world use it to get connected, including women and men who are accessing healthcare and finding jobs online. It can make such a difference. We are all disappointed that people in India won't be able to take advantage of Free Basics - but glad that our other work with Internet.org continues. We will keep connecting the world."
On being contacted for their comments; a spokesperson for Facebook India said,
"Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform. While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings.”
We also asked Facebook whether they would consider different pricing models that do not differentiate on basis of content to keep FreeBasics alive in India. However, we had not received a reply at the time of publishing of this article.
The full text of Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook post is reproduced below:
Everyone in the world should have access to the internet.
That's why we launched Internet.org with so many different initiatives -- including extending networks through solar-powered planes, satellites and lasers, providing free data access through Free Basics, reducing data use through apps, and empowering local entrepreneurs through Express Wi-Fi.
Today India's telecom regulator decided to restrict programs that provide free access to data. This restricts one of Internet.org's initiatives, Free Basics, as well as programs by other organizations that provide free access to data.
While we're disappointed with today's decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet.
Our work with Internet.org around the world has already improved many people's lives. More than 19 million people in 38 countries have been connected through our different programs.
Connecting India is an important goal we won't give up on, because more than a billion people in India don't have access to the internet. We know that connecting them can help lift people out of poverty, create millions of jobs and spread education opportunities. We care about these people, and that's why we're so committed to connecting them.
Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. That mission continues, and so does our commitment to India.
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