Prasanto K Roy
20th Jan 2016
Facebook has been pulling all stops to promote its zero-rated platform Free Basics, which aims to give free internet access to Facebook and a few selected sites, for users of its partner operators (Reliance in India). By some accounts, it’s spent Rs 300 crore (almost $45 million) on the campaign in India.
The campaign, reportedly approved and closely watched by Mark Zuckerberg himself, has ended up rubbing a lot if users and others the wrong way—including India’s telecom regulator TRAI, which has been inundated by bulk email allegedly from Facebook users—all template responses created by Facebook, expressing support for Free Basics. This was in response to a consultation by TRAI—where the questions, as TRAI points out, were something else altogether.
You can read the full five-page letter of January 18 from TRAI to Facebook here. In fact it’s quite a delight and we urge you to read it. But if you want a quick summary, here’s what TRAI basically says, albeit more politely.
18 January, 2016
Ms Ankhi Das
Dear Ankhi (and, Dear Zuck--we know you’re already reading this),
Thank you sooo much for writing to TRAI--finally.
(1) What we asked you on Jan 1 was: ‘Did you actually tell your users exactly what we said and what we asked?’
(2) You replied on Jan 13: ‘Well, um, you know, we asked Facebook users to answer TRAI’s questions, sort of.’
(3) Duh… actually we asked you – oh never mind, you know what we asked, and if you don’t, read (1) again. And don’t worry, we’ve got our answer.
(4) You’ve also said you couldn’t respond because, um, you couldn’t reach our TRAI email. Yeah? Took you 25 days to tell us that?
(5) Even so. Despite all this crap, we’ll listen to any real answers you may have for our questions. If you have any.
(6) But hey, you DO know that your template responses have nothing to do with our questions, don’t you?
(i) We asked users:
(Q1) Is differential pricing/zero-rating okay?
(Q2) If okay, how do we ensure net neutrality?
(Q3) Suggest a way to give free access, other than zero-rating?
(Q4) Any other related issues?
(ii) To the above four questions, your “users” answered (through Facebook’s template response), this: “We love Free Basics! Free Basics helps the poor! Shutting down Free Basics is BAD. Free Basics Forever! Thank you.”
(iii) And you also added breathlessly: “Dear TRAI please listen to 16 million users they love Free Basics! Yes, there really are 16 million but none of them got delivered because your mail was bouncing.”
(7) So, erm, your 16 million template responses don’t answer our questions, except for ONE of those responses. We’re taking that one. The other 15.99 million don’t even mention the words Consultation Paper.
(8) You DO know what “public consultation” means? Do you?
(9) OK, you don’t. Got it. For a start it does not mean an opinion poll on an unrelated question.
(10) And no, we can’t take a flood of fake opinion on an unrelated question and use it to make policy.
(11) Did you ask your users if you could speak on their behalf? Nope.
(12) Don’t worry, we’ll still listen to anyone who actually answers our questions, as against answer random opinion polls.
Prasanto K Roy is Head (Media) at Trivone
TRAI Writes to Facebook
Yeah, yeah, we know Free Basics is The Answer. But did you even read our question? Love, TRAI
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