Trai asks Reliance Com to hold Facebook's Free Basics service

Trai asks Reliance Com to hold Facebook's Free Basics service

 Telecom regulator Trai has asked Reliance Communications to keep services of Facebook's free Internet platform, Free Basics, in abeyance, till the issue on differential pricing is sorted out.

According to an official source, Trai has written to RCom to keep the commercial roll out of Free Basics in abeyance.

The regulator is believed to have sought the details of terms and conditions of the service from RCom.

The source further said 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.

The source further said as the issue is currently being debated, it had asked RCom to hold the service and a decision on the matter will be taken after Trai finalises its stand on differential pricing.

RCom on November 23 had informed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) about launch of Free Basics. This platform, which is in the form of mobile application, allows access to some websites without consumer paying for internet charges.

The regulator on December 1 asked RCom to keep service in abeyance and sought conditions around the Free Basics service.

RCom in a letter on December 7 sought time till December 9 to furnish details and assured to keep Free Basics service on hold till then, the source said.

"No reply from RCom was received thereafter. Hence, Trai has again issued a letter today seeking details of service," the source said.

RCom did not immediately replied to the query sent, while a Facebook spokesperson said: "We are committed to Free Basics and to working with Reliance and the relevant authorities to help people in India get connected."

Trai has issued second consultation paper on net neutrality with discussion around differential pricing system -- one of the important issues under net neutrality principles.

The Free Basics service, which has been in midst of neutrality debate, offers free access to a set of basic websites and services with objective to introduce people to the internet.

The regulator has received about 5.70 lakh comments on the consultation for which last date is December 30 mainly through campaign launched by Facebook.

The social media giant, whose users include top leaders of the world including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has started aggressively advertising about Free Basics across media.

"This campaign gives people the opportunity to support digital equality in India. It lets people speak in support of the one billion people in India who remain unconnected, and lets them participate in the public debate that is being held by the Trai on differential pricing for data services. And it gives them the opportunity to support Free Basics," Facebook spokesperson said.

A committee set up by Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in July had recommended against Free Basics, formerly known as Internet.Org, saying that its users could have free access for only a few websites, and Facebook's role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were on that list was seen as violating Net neutrality.

Facebook has denied of interpretation of its platform as "gatekeeper" and instead called Free Basics a "gateway to Internet".

A Reliance Communications spokesperson later said: "As directed by Trai, the commercial launch of Free Basics has been kept in abeyance, till they consider all details and convey a specific approval."

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