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Differential Data Pricing Plainly Not Acceptable: Ravi Shankar Prasad

The minister says the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi fully respects the freedom of expression and discourse on social media and Internet

Stating that Internet cannot be allowed to be monopoly of few, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday (09 February) slammed Facebook's Free Basics programme and said such differential pricing modes are "plainly not acceptable".

The minister said the TRAI's order on differential pricing for data services has enhanced India's image in the Net community world over and established its maturity.

"We are expanding digital India into nook and corner of the country, and taking extraordinary steps to empower the people through technology, to create a knowledge economy. The very concept of differential pricing on data, whether it is Free Basics or any other mode, is plainly not acceptable," Prasad told PTI.

Backing net neutrality, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has barred operators from charging different rates for Internet access based on content, dealing a blow to Facebook's controversial Free Basics and other such plans.

Ruling against discriminatory pricing for different data platforms or content, TRAI said operators cannot enter into pacts with Internet companies to subsidise access to some websites.

The move dealt a blow to Facebook's plans to offer Free Basics service that allows free access to certain websites in partnership with a telecom operator. Zero tariff plans of other operators like Airtel would also be impacted.

"This view I have been holding since the day I became minister. In this light, I fully welcome the tariff order of TRAI which has enhanced the image of India in the Net community world over and establishes our maturity," he added.

The minister further said the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi fully respects the freedom of expression and discourse on social media and Internet.

"The view of our government from the beginning has been very clear, which I have also articulated in Parliament, that is Internet is one of the finest creations of human mind and it should not become the monopoly of few," Prasad said.

Facebook had launched an aggressive campaign to defend its Free Basics platform and argued that zero-rating plans can lead to increase in Internet adoption at no cost to the government, the content provider or consumers.

The debate on Net neutrality started after Airtel decided to charge separately for Internet-based calls in December 2014, but withdrew it later after protests. The debate heated up after Airtel launched free Internet platform Airtel Zero and later Facebook came out with its Internet.Org, renamed as Free Basics.