The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and social networking site Facebook are locked in a war of words involving the regulator’s consultation paper on differential data pricing, which the latter sees aimed at curbing its Free Basics programme.
In a latest series of exchange of letters between the two, which have been made public by the regulator, the two sides have almost accused each other of not adhering to the format of responding to the queries asked in the consultation paper. While Facebook has written to the Trai that lot of its members responses in support of Free Basics could not be delivered to it as the concerned email id had blocked mails from it. In a terse response, the Trai has said that if that was the case, Facebook should have intimated it immediately so that the anomaly could have been rectified within 24 hours.
The sum and substance of the letters is that while Facebook alleges the regulator of not treating the responses of its members as replies to the consultation paper, the Trai maintains that the former despite its earlier suggestion that the responses be specific to the questions asked continue to be in template format.
The genesis of the issue lies in the consultation paper floated by the Trai on December 9 to examine differential data pricing to which it sought responses from the stakeholders.
Facebook’s Free Basics programme which comes under such tariff package defended it by creating a page on its site which when pressed sent a response to the regulator stating something to effect that
“I support Free Basics”. On December 31, the Trai chairman at a press conference said that these responses were template driven and he would write to the senders to send in their responses to the specific queries raised in the paper.
In its letter to the Trai, Facebook has said that it reached out to its subscribers who subsequently sent their responses in the desired format but all of them could not be delivered as the concerned email id in Trai had blocked mails coming from Facebook. To this the Trai has replied that if there was any such anomaly it should have been brought to its notice immediately so that it could have been rectified.
The war of words carries on as the Trai has written to Facebook that its responses continue to be template driven and do not address the specific queries raised by it in the consultation paper.
Trai has also charged Facebook for acting as the “self-appointed spokesman on behalf of those who have sent responses to Trai using your platform”. “It has been noticed that you have not been authorised by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively. No disclosure in the act of sending a message to Trai using your platform to this effect has been issued to users,” Trai has written.
When contacted a Facebook India spokesperson told FE in an e-mail response: “Trai requested that we reach out to these Free Basics supporters to ask them to also answer the specific questions raised by the consultative paper. We are not aware of a similar request having been made to any of the other commenters who did not answer these specific questions. Nevertheless, we attempted to cooperate with their request. While we did not include all of the specific language drafted by Trai, we did deliver a request for additional information and included in the draft email the exact language from the four specific questions posed in the consultation paper. More than 1.4 million people responded by submitting revised comments that addressed these questions.”
Trai is conducting an open house discussion on the subject on January 21 in the Capital.