NEW DELHI: The telecom regulator Trai has asked Reliance Communications (RCom) to keep services of Facebook’s free internet platform, Free Basics, in abeyance, till the issue on differential pricing is sorted out.
According to Telecom Ministry officials, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has written to Reliance Communications (RCom) to keep the commercial roll out of Free Basics in abeyance. It is said that the regulator has sought details of terms and conditions of the service from RCom.
Facebook launched the initiative in India in February by partnering with RCom.
RCom offers the Free Basics service under a ‘Freenet’ button on mobile phones. It started with free access to select 33 websites across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa. This was subsequently increased to 80 websites.
RCom had informed the authority on November 23 about the service, which was launched free of cost for its GSM customers. As the operator had not submitted the terms and conditions of the service, Trai in a letter dated December 1 had asked RCom to hold the commercial launch of the service.
Trai had sought the details as the service falls under differential pricing of data by operators. Trai has already come out with a consultation paper on differential pricing and whether it should be allowed or not.
Facebook was already criticised in the social media platform from net neutrality supporters, especially the Save the Internet crusaders, as it launched ‘Send a Mail to Trai to Save Free Basics’ campaign asking users to send signed e-mails to the Trai in support of the campaign.
Earlier, Airtel had offered a similar platform called Airtel Zero, using a concept called zero-rating. This is a practice where internet service providers do not charge customers on data for select applications that they use. Following a huge public outcry for equal access of internet, a number of firms, including Flipkart, pulled out of Airtel Zero. Similarly, Cleartrip and NDTV had also pulled out of internet.org.