TRAI Takes on Free Basics After Response from Users
In what will come as welcome news to millions of netizens across the country, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India(TRAI) in its latest communication to Facebook, has in rather stern words intimated to the company that it does not approve of the manner in which Facebook is misrepresenting the results of its ‘support Free Basics’ campaign, and what it seems to be suggesting is a subtle attempt at nudging the voice of the people out of the decision-making equation.
This letter from the desk of TRAI’s joint advisor K.V Sebastian, pulls up Facebook for the way it has conducted itself through the campaign to save Free Basics from being shut down. TRAI has suggested that Facebook is guilty of not conveying the full text of the regulator’s message to users who had supported Free Basics, and hence is misleading them into making uninformed choices.
TRAI had earlier asked Facebook to convey to its users in support of Free Basics and zero-rating campaigns four specific questions which the telecom regulator wanted answers to before taking any final decision on the matter. Facebook, for its part responded to TRAI’s request by sending back a highly charged template response in favour of saving Free Basics which it claimed reflected the sentiment of its users.
TRAI’s reply to this read,
“Your response is silent on whether the text of TRAI has been shared with users as was specifically requested by TRAI. In light of the tangential natures of the responses by the users to the questions asked, the communication of the text was vital to demonstrating and ensuring that those who are responding to TRAI are making informed decisions.”
The letter further goes on to say that in light of Facebook not disclosing crucial information to users, TRAI does not accept Facebook’s assertion that the initial template responses in support for ‘Free Basics’ and ‘Digital Equality’ are an appropriate representation of what people are saying.
TRAI, not mincing its words, has also slammed Facebook in this letter over what it calls as ‘self-appointed’ spokesmanship on behalf of its users who it says “have not authorized Facebook of speaking on their behalf collectively.”
It has further said that it does not approve of this practice of Facebook, and believes that what the company is doing through these uninformed template responses is curbing “public consultation” which it believes “has the flavour of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”.