Why did TRAI ban Free Basics?

Why did TRAI ban Free Basics?

Facebook's Free Basics is permanently banned in India. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put a ban on Free Basics as a part of ruling that supports net neutrality. India's net neutrality activists argue that the Free Basics violates net neutrality by favoring some selective services over the others.

What is Free Basics?

- Free Services: Free Basics was a campaign started by Facebook in India. According to Facebook, Free Basics is an open platform through which they have made to make it easy for any developer to get their service and website available for free of cost to those who cannot afford the internet access. However, the developers have to enter into a partnership with Facebook to make this free service available.

Facebook is particularly interested in partnering with the organizations focused on education, health, economical empowerment, civic participation and critical information.

- Re-branding of Internet.org: Free Basics was known as Internet.org before September 2015. Internet.org was launched by Facebook in October 2014. This initiative was to provide free internet access to the underprivileged in developing countries. That was a failed attempt because it was considered to be against the essence of net neutrality.

After the failure of Internet.org in India, Facebook’s marketing team came up with Free Basics on September 2015.

Reasons for ban on Free Basics:

1. Violation of Net Neutrality:
Free Basics is based on zero-rating platform where free access is provided to a limited number of services, but not to all. This leads to the access of only limited Internet content to the end user. This is the violation of principles of net neutrality.

2. Discriminated Tariffs for Data Services:
TRAI has issued the regulation which does not allow service providers to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a user. This is the 'Prohibition of Discrimination Tariffs for Data Services Regulation, 2016'

3. It Kills Competition:
Differential pricing by Free Basics becomes a tool that facilitates market dominance. Free Basics provide free service availability access to some selected service providers over the others. The internet giants can easily afford to participate in such programs and this will keep new players out of the competition.

4. Only Facebook Partners are Free:
Facebook claims that the Free Basics is about bringing people online. However, it is not like that. It is about making services of only the partners of Facebook free. The rest of the internet is paid. The user who have paid for internet can also access the Free Basics for free. It gives Facebook and its partners an advantage. Over the time, Facebook would have gained monopoly in the Internet market with Facebook becoming a synonym of Internet.

5. Misleading Source of Information:
Facebook will be the only source of information through Free Basics. Facebook is already criticized in Brazil for misleading advertisements. People will get only that much of information which Facebook wants to show.

6. Not an Open Platform:
Facebook defined the technical guidelines for Free Basics, but reserved the right to change them. They reserved the rights to reject applicants, who are forced to comply Facebook's terms.

7. Security Issues:
The partners through Free Basics have to give access to their user data to Facebook according to the partnership. The websites which want to compete with Facebook will not be able to make partnership with Facebook, because they will have to give access to their user data. This would have resulted into a security concern for India.

8. Open Web vs Limited Sites:
End user prefers to have access to all the websites in the world (open web) for shorter duration as compare to the limited set of websites for a longer duration which is why Free Basics was thought to be against the spirit of Internet.
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  • RE: Why did TRAI ban Free Basics? -Balaji (02/11/16)
  • Facebook aims on establishing itself as a monopoly of providing selected services at free of cost in the mask of 'Free Basics'.