On 23 November, R-Com informed Trai about the plan to launch the service. On 1 December, Trai told the company not to go ahead with the launch and asked it to furnish the terms and conditions of the service. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
On 23 November, R-Com informed Trai about the plan to launch the service. On 1 December, Trai told the company not to go ahead with the launch and asked it to furnish the terms and conditions of the service.
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Trai reminds R-Com to submit Free Basics’ terms and conditions

The reminder comes three weeks after the regulator asked R-Com to put the scheme on hold and submit details before a commercial launch

New Delhi: The telecom regulator on Wednesday issued a reminder to Reliance Communications Ltd to submit the detailed terms and conditions of a service that allows its users to access Facebook without data charges.

The reminder comes three weeks after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) asked R-Com to put the scheme on hold and submit details before a commercial launch.

On Wednesday, the Times of India reported, quoting a government official it did not name, that the authority has asked R-Com to stop Free Basics, in which a telecom operator offers free access to Facebook, and other select web content, without data charges.

On 23 November, R-Com informed Trai about the plan to launch the service. On 1 December, Trai told the company not to go ahead with the launch and asked it to furnish the terms and conditions of the service.

On 7 December, R-Com replied it had put on hold the commercial launch of Free Basics in some service areas and would submit the details asked by Trai by 9 December. However, the company has not yet responded to the regulator.

“As directed by TRAI, the commercial launch of Freebasics has been kept in abeyance, till they consider all details and convey a specific approval," a Reliance Communications spokesperson said.

“We are committed to Free Basics and to working with Reliance and the relevant authorities to help people in India get connected," said a Facebook spokesperson.

“Today, we have issued a reminder to Reliance Communication to furnish the detailed terms and conditions for Free Basics," Trai chairman R.S. Sharma said over the phone. The details provided will be examined by the regulator to see if it sticks to the net-neutrality principle.

In February, Facebook launched Internet.org in India along with Reliance Communications to connect people to the social media network, as well as websites such as Wikipedia, ESPN, BBC, Reuters, ClearTrip, AccuWeather and Dictionary.com. The move faced severe criticism, since it offers free access only to select content, violating net neutrality that holds that telcos should not discriminate online data by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment or mode of communication.

In September, Facebook rebranded Internet.org as Free Basics, while including 60 new services, such as English Dost (for learning English), MeraDoctor (for health), M-Kisan (for farmers) and Skymet (for weather forecasts), taking the total number of content providers to 80.

The Net neutrality debate, which remained a hot topic in the country for a good part of the year, started when Trai released a consultation paper on it in April, followed by the launch of Airtel Zero, a marketing platform that allows customers to access mobile applications for free but charges the application providers, by telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd.

About 10 days after the launch of Airtel Zero, online retailer Flipkart, which partnered with Airtel, walked away from the deal. This was followed by travel portal Cleartrip.com and media companies Times Group and NDTV pulling out of Internet.org, a partnership between Reliance Communications and Facebook.

On 9 December, the telecom regulator issued the second consultation paper on net neutrality, which was focused on differential pricing for data services. It asked whether telecom operators should be allowed to charge differently for different websites. Stakeholders must submit comments by 30 December, while the deadline for counter-comments is 7 January.

Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint’s publisher, and nine others in the Bombay High court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. HT Media is contesting the case.

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