TRAI dubs Save Free Basics campaign as orchestrated opinion poll

Facebook alleges 1.4 million responses blocked by 'someone' in TRAI office.

The verbal duel between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Facebook has continued with both resorting to allegations against one another over the controversial "Save Free Basics" project in the last three days.

In its letter dated January 18 to Ms Ankhi Das, Facebook's Director of Public Policy for India and South & Central Asia, the Indian telecom regulator's Joint Adviser Mr K V Sebastian alleged that Facebook was trying to turn its campaign in the social media into a "crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll."

Sebastian further said that Facebook's appeal to the internet users to support its campaign had the flavour of reducing TRAI's meaningful consultative exercise.

He also said that the responses sent in by Facebook on behalf its users were not, in fact, the responses to the four questions posed by the regulator in its consultation paper on Differential Prices for Data Services but merely templatised response expressing support of the Free Basics project.

Facebook was misleading its users with its campaign and the responses sent by it were not relevant to the questions posed in the consultation paper, TRAI said.

"Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation which, if accepted, will have dangerous ramifications for policy making in India," Sebastian said in his letter.

However, Facebook hit back in its reply on January 20 saying that TRAI office unsubscribed to its mail on differential pricing.

"As many as 1.4 million responses were being blocked by someone with access to the designated TRAI email account by unsubscribing from emails sent from Facebook," the social media giant said.

Facebook further alleged the responses from its supporters were not treated as replies to the consultation paper but TRAI dismissed the charge saying that despite the regulator's suggestions that the responses be specific to the four questions in the consultation, they continued to be in template format.

"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected and in this regard we are fully aligned with what we believe is TRAI's objective this consultation paper," Facebook's letter said.

TRAI's data showed that it has received around 2.4 million comments to January 7 and of them, 1.89 million were through Facebookmail.com and Supportfreebasics.in but Facebook asserted that it has sent over 11 million responses. This has become a major source of contention between TRAI and Facebook on the net neutrality.

Speaking to ZDNet, Sebastian said that his letter to Ankhi Das on January 18 was part of a series of correspondence and was self-explanatory.

"I have received a reply from the Facebook but there was nothing substantial and it only reiterated what they said in the past," Sebastian added.

Facebook's Ankhi Das was not available for comment.

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