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India's Telecom Authorities Just Called Mark Zuckerberg's Bluff About Free Basics

TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma said that Free Basics will not help reduce the digital divide in India like Zuckerberg's been promising.

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Over the past few weeks, Facebook has been running a massive campaign asking Indians to support Free Basics, a platform that a lot of experts have deemed to be anti-net neutrality.

The campaign asked people to respond to a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) consultation paper saying that they are in favour of Free Basics being launched.

However, in an interview with The Hindu TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma shut down Facebook's tactics saying that the consultation paper wasn't about Free Basics.

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“Consultation papers are not opinion polls. We have asked a question on differential pricing and people have responded saying they love Free Basics,” Sharma said.

The deadline for the consultation paper has been pushed to January 7 to allow people to send relevant responses to TRAI's actual query about differential pricing and net neutrality.

Indranil Mukherjee / AFP / Getty Images

"We have extended the deadline for them to come up with the right answers, not just saying, 'I love Free Basics.' I never asked about Free Basics,” Sharma explained in The Hindu report.

In an interview with Business Standard, Sharma also added that differential pricing had nothing to do with reducing digital inequality.

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"There is really no correlation between reducing digital divide and differential pricing being offered by telecom operators," he said. "Free internet is not a problem, but the issue is that it is free for some and not for everybody, and that too for specific content, not all."


TRAI has also asked Reliance Communications, Facebook's partner for Free Basics in India, to hold the commercial launch of the platform till it goes through all the recommendations it receives.

To sum up, TRAI has rejected the responses it received in favour of Free Basics, said that the platform will not reduce digital inequality like it promises, and asked that its launch be put on hold.

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