TRAI says no to differential pricing & bye-bye to Facebook’s Free Basics

Mark Zuckerberg

Finally the Save the Internet campaign with some massive push from the All India Bakchod’s YouTube campaign has done the trick. The campaign was pushing for regulation that maintained a free and equal access to the internet for all Indians.


The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has barred all telecom operators from differential rates for data services. This basically puts paid to the Free Basics platform that Facebook wanted to implement (it was earlier called Internet.Org) as well as the Zero platform by Airtel – as they currently stand.

Here are the main points of the regulation:

1. No service provider will be allowed to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services based on content.
2. No service provider can enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract,  for discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider in a bid to evade the prohibition in this regulation.
3. In cases of public emergency, a reduced tariff for accessing or providing services, has been permitted.
4. TRAI is likely to review these regulations after two years.

TRAI said this ban was needed to keep the Internet open for all and to not discriminate against anyone. There is also a fine of Rs. 50,000 that can be levied for any infringement of this ban on a daily basis, but there is an exemption for emergency services.

There will be no case by case approval for any plans for differential pricing though – and instead recommended that a clear policy is put in place.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook had teamed up with Reliance Communications to offer Free Basics service which was earlier called Internet.Org. However, a recent TRAI order stopped them from implementing these services.

Facebook released a email statement that conveyed their disappointment with these developments: “While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the Internet and the opportunities it brings.”

Facebook’s  founder Mark Zuckerberg had recently wished everyone a Happy Lunar New year in Mandarin this year and revealed his daughter’s Chinese name to the world. Looks like his plans for the Indian market will require a massive rejig with the recent TRAI regulation.

Facebook had orchestrated an opinion poll to coincide with the Digital India campaign when Prime Minister Modi visited the Facebook campus in California. It also released a massive advertising campaign touting Free Basics as Internet for all and encouraged its users to pledge support for this campaign without revealing that Internet for all was actually a clever disguise for its Net Neutrality campaign.

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