#NetNeutrality: Defeating Facebook's FreeBasics with

The incredible response to the TRAI consultations clearly indicates that the public of India is able and willing to engage in critical policy matters – and will not allow a vital resource (the Internet) to be turned into a private preserve of a few companies

Facebook’s massive campaign to promote Free Basics has come a cropper with TRAI’s order of February 8, 2016, directing that service providers should not charge different rates for accessing different types of content on the Internet.

[This video is an effort to document the whole struggle against FreeBasics in India. It is a historic and important one in defence of Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom. We tried to document from as many sources as possible so as to reflect on all interventions that were responsible for the victory. If there are any more videos or photos or events that need to go into the video we will be glad to include them. You can mail them to content@fsmi.in]

The decision taken by TRAI disallows the service providers to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a consumer.

TRAI carried out a thorough examination of the issues in the responses to its consultation paper on the subject, and took a decision that upholds net neutrality. It has also made clear that it considers net neutrality to be the guiding principle of the Internet.

This consultation process stands out as a unique one, where global monopolies had come out spending amounts for highly misleading advertisements in all forms of media, and trying to mould public opinion in their favour.

The vigilant community of developers, activists, hacktivists, academia  and organisations like Free Software Movement of India, savetheinternet, startup communities had to carry out a dogged campaign for net neutrality in face of such money power.

The consultation was a testimony to people's intellect against the corporate money and propaganda. The incredible response to the TRAI consultations clearly indicates that the public of India is able and willing to engage in critical policy matters – and will not allow a vital resource (the Internet) to be turned into a private preserve of a few companies.

With this decision, India joins a select group of countries (including Chile, Slovakia, Brazil, the Netherlands, etc) to ban this practice. In its consultation paper of December 2015, TRAI had sought public responses on the issue of service providers charging users differential rates to access different content on the Internet.

If permitted, this would allow service providers to offer different tariff packages for users accessing different types of content; so notionally, a service provider could charge more for accessing ‘x’ website than ‘y’ website.

The issue raised by TRAI was a fairly interesting one – you have various content and service providers who are coming together to provide subsidised access to certain specific content.  

Such practices, on the face of it, permit poorer people to access a certain limited range of content at low costs. However, such platforms cause tremendous damage to the Internet economy itself – largely by enabling the perpetuation of monopolies in the Internet space (and the associated problems – ranging from privacy concerns to issues of plurality of media).

Further, such platforms affect the basic architecture of the Internet by casting service providers in the role of gatekeepers to the Internet. It must be kept in mind also that every user on the Internet can also be a content creator.

Permitting differential pricing would significantly limit the uses to which we could put the Internet – including that small content providers could be completely cut off from their viewing public.

Today, there are nearly 1 billion websites and 3.5 billion users of the Internet. It means one out of every three users is a content creator. The reason that the Internet has become such a powerful force for change in such a short time is precisely because anybody, anywhere, can connect to anybody else, not only to receive, but also to provide content. All that is required is that both sides have access to the Internet.

Given the reasoned order passed by TRAI – which accepts that protection of net neutrality principles are essential to protect the Internet as a public resource – the onus is now on the Government of India to put in place appropriate high-level principles through statute or other equally efficacious means to ensure that the Internet is truly protected as a commons – to be utilised for the benefit of all of India. (Y Kiran Chandra is General Secretary, Free Software Movement of India, and Rishab Bailey is from Knowledge Commons)