Trai snuffs out Facebook greed

It is no surprise that Facebook founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg is “disappointed” with a landmark decision by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to prohibit discriminatory tariffs for Internet data services. To come out with a clear-cut ruling in the face of high voltage campaign unleashed by one of the most influential global brands was no easy task. This, the Trai has done with immense courage upholding the principle of Net Neutrality or freedom for every Indian to use Internet the way he or she likes without being coaxed into free data service in the name of “breaking down barriers”. Facebook is one of the greatest creations which has brought connectivity to billions across the world. But at the end of the day, it is a corporate entity listed on the stock exchange with a mandate to pursue commercial interests of its shareholders and there is everything legitimate about it. So far so good. The problem arises when Facebook or its partners claim to take upon themselves a task which essentially needs to be done by the government through efficient and fair policy interventions, as the former’s campaign had stressed.

The fact that more than a billion people in India are not yet connected with the Internet should be a key concern of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and not of the Facebook founder, even though he is welcome to work with the government to improve connectivity by some noteworthy innovations like those powered by solar energy. “Connecting India is an important goal we won’t give up on, because more than a billion people in India don’t have access to the internet,” said Zuckerberg after the Trai order on Net Neutrality. Such a quote is more apt for the country’s leadership and the government which has launched an ambitious Digital India programme.

Yet another positive from the Trai ruling is that it has not taken any middle ground or please-all exercise despite high decibel lobbying and counter campaigning. The decision is unequivocal, removing any apprehension even about an impending big-time entrant who could try and get around the regulation. The ruling would not apply to closed networks as long as tariffs are not offered by the service provider for evading the regulation. That the regulator has chosen an India-specific model without being influenced by case-to-case regime in the US or in several European countries is all the more praise worthy. If India has crossed the one billion mark in mobile subscribers’ base, it can surely catch up with the net connectivity, Free Basics or no basics.   

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