Apparently the millions Facebook has been spending on advertisements, lobbying, marketing and spamming the Indian government will be for naught. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) appears poised to ban the practice of zero rating as part of its new net neutrality rules, effectively killing Facebook’s controversial Free Basics zero rating program once and for all in the country. According to the Times of India, TRAI is expected to deliver the death blow to Facebook’s world-domination ambitions within a week:
“Trai will issue an order to this effect within a week, top sources told TOI. The order is also expected to bar free or subsidised data packages that offer access to only a select services, such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp messenger. “These are discriminatory and are against the concept of digital democracy. We will not allow them,” a source said. The regulator’s stand will clear the confusion over net neutrality. There were apprehensions over the manner in which free Internet was being offered, after the introduction of some zero-rated platforms with preferential treatment to a few websites for a fee.”
India would join Japan, The Netherlands, Chile and Slovenia in banning zero rating entirely, based on the idea that cap exemption gives some companies a leg up, and unfairly distorts the inherently level Internet playing field.
That’s something the FCC refused to do here in the States, and as a result we’re witnessing telecom carriers rushing toward who can be the most “innovative” in the zero rating space. AT&T and Verizon are now formally charging companies for premium, cap-exempt status, T-Mobile is throttling every shred of video that touches its network to 1.5 Mbps (and lying about it), and Comcast is now exempting its own streaming video service from usage caps, much to the chagrin of smaller streaming competitors. So far, the FCC’s response has been to nod dumbly.
In India, Facebook (lead by former FCC boss and neutrality waffler Kevin Martin), has been engaged in a blistering media and lobbying campaign to convince India that a curated walled garden run by Facebook was a great way to help the nation’s poor farmers. Indian activists and critics like Mozilla disagreed, arguing that the company was simply hiding its lust to control emerging ad markets under the banner of altruism, and if Facebook really wanted to help India’s poor, it should focus on improving the country’s actual Internet infrastructure.
Facebook’s initial response was to call critics of the company’s program extremists who were hurting the poor (despite many of the critics being local Indian activists who’ve dedicated a lifetime to that task). When that didn’t work, Facebook changed the name of the program, and filled local newspapers with full-page editorials by CEO Mark Zuckerberg declaring the company’s sole interest was poor farmers, not cornering developing ad markets. When people didn’t buy that, Facebook tried tricking its users (including those in the U.S. and UK) into spamming the Indian government.
It appears to be that last effort that may have pushed TRAI…