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Facebook lobbying Indian government to save Free Basics

Facebook is calling for Indian users of Free Basics to defend the service against a potential ban by the country’s regulator.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) could ban the service “within weeks”, according to the social media company. Free Basics, a part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, grants users free access to certain online content. It was recently rolled out across India via a partnership with Reliance Communications.

However, there are concerns that the service violates principles of net neutrality – a hot button topic in India. Many firms have distanced themselves from zero-rating plans that allow access to certain apps for free, claiming that they provide content providers with an unfair advantage. Facebook has been compelled to defend its service, claiming that it offers content without bias.

Accordingly, the social media giant has asked users of Free Basics to send a pre-written email to the regulator expressing their support for the service, claiming that only a “small, vocal group of critics” object to the service enough to lobby for it to be banned. Facebook notes that blocking the service would affect a huge number of Indians who cannot afford to use the internet without such programs.

 The email reads: “It [Free Basics] helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help with getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile networks. With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people.”

TRAI has issued a consultation paper on the issue of differential pricing for data services, and has asked that comments be submitted before the end of the year.

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