A decent summary of the debate and issues around Facebook’s Free Basics offering and how TRAI just snubbed it.
When Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited India late last year, he made the mandatory trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. Almost every foreign visitor to the subcontinent does so; the late Princess Diana had posed alone before the mausoleum when the British royal couple came to India in 1992. A few months later, she and Prince Charles separated. Zuckerberg also had himself photographed alone at the Taj. He posted the photograph on his Facebook page, accompanied by the comment: “It is even more stunning than I expected.”
Today, a few months later, Zuckerberg finds himself estranged from his Indian constituency. His Free Basics initiative has been banned by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Zuckerberg’s dream of being a pivotal part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India program has received a severe setback. And his target of “the next one billion” Facebook users – the first one billion was reached on August 24, 2015 – may have been postponed by months, if not years. (The first one billion is the number of people who logged on to Facebook on that day. It is different from the usually quoted monthly active users, which stood at 1.59 billion on December 31, 2015.)
Considering the outpouring of support for the TRAI ruling in the Indian media and among opinion leaders, it may appear that the decision was inevitable. But it hasn’t always been so. There were some protests from technology experts when Internet.org was unveiled in 2013 as a program that would provide limited access to the Internet for free via the Facebook platform. There was more criticism when it was rebranded Free Basics in September 2015. But issues such as net neutrality were barely understood by the man on the street.