On 8th February 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) passed an order which barred differential pricing of data based on its content by internet service providers. This is in the wake of a concerted campaign by Facebook, which in collaboration with some telecom companies like Reliance, wanted to offer a service known as “Free Basics” by which Facebook would provide free of cost access only to a number of websites chosen by it on the basis of some criteria laid down by Facebook itself.
Facebook argued that such programs would open up enormous opportunities for tens of millions of people in countries like India so that they could have access to education, information, jobs and more. It said that bringing hundreds of millions of people online at a cost affordable to them is necessary for rapid progress of mankind. It must be pointed out here that with more than 4 billion US$ per year in advertising revenue and 1.2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is much more than just a social networking site – it’s a shrewdly run monopoly corporation, worth more than US$100 billion. Its plan to roll out “Free Basics” was ebidently intended to bolster its already preeminent position in the market; and furthermore, to put itself in a position whereby companies wanting more people visiting their websites would have to ally themselves with Facebook. In short, it wanted to increase its dominance of the internet. Facebook reportedly spent over Rs 400 crore in advertisements in recent months to garner support for its “Free Basics” program.  
A number of other companies and organisations in India and abroad opposed the “Free Basics” program. They argued that it would put all other websites which were not part of the “Free Basics” platform at a disadvantage as they would receive much less visitors and hence make less money. They said that on our countries airwaves, it should be ensured that every mobile carrier in India offered every person in India “the full internet” and not just “some small corner of the internet chosen by Facebook”. They likened the Facebook program to a “land grab” on government property. With the growing importance of the internet as a medium to conduct trade and business, it was hardly thinkable that the capitalists of India would like to be acquiescent to Facebook. Not only could the government and regulators not defend the outrageous lie of Facebook that they were promoting Free Basics for altruistic reasons, they also did not want to put all their eggs in one basket controlled by Facebook. In the event, TRAI has promulgated its’ order on Feb 8th, which effectively seals the fate of programs like “Free Basics” of Facebook and other ‘zero rated’ plans.
The bourgeois media however, makes out that the government and its regulators are great champions of “freedom”. According to them, the TRAI ruling is “pioneering”, and “India has joined a select few countries that have protected net neutrality and barred zero-rating services”. However, it should be clear to the working class that the capitalists of India merely just did not want to be at the mercy of Facebook when it comes to traffic to their websites and increased business opportunities.
The big bourgeoisie of India, which clearly harbours imperialist ambitions, has only shown in this instance that it can take a stand that is “independent” but which in reality is merely to safeguard its’ own current interests. The manner in which the leader of the students’ union of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been arrested on charges of sedition 12.02.16, just for taking a position that the execution of Afzal Guru was unfair, shows that the Indian state is hardly a champion of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. True freedoms for the working masses can be guaranteed only when state power is wielded by the toiling people of India.
Yours truly,
Naresh Natarajan, Delhi


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policy    Net neutrality    internet    Feb 16-29 2016    Letters to Editor    Economy     Popular Movements    




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