Microsoft slams Facebook's Free Basics initiative in India

In a rare intervention, Microsoft has jumped right into the Net Neutrality debate in India. Bhaskar Pramanik, the Chairman of Microsoft India said that Facebook's intention may be noble, but to describe Free Basics as compliant with net neutrality is not right. Interestingly, Bing is one of the services which would have been offered free of data charges as part of the initiative.

In a statement to Economic Times, Pramanik said:

"I don't think what Facebook is doing is about net neutrality; it is about helping first-time users get on the Internet and they should call it that. But to muddy it and say that it is also net neutral doesn't make sense."

Pramanik said that Microsoft supports Facebook's intention of making available a set of software and services to every new user of the Internet for free, which will make it easier for them to become regular users of the technology.

"We believe in net neutrality; we believe that the Internet should be free of any constraints ... that was the whole intent of the Internet."

He also emphasized that 'Free Basics' is not completely free. "Somebody is paying for it. And the problem then is that if the operator or a service provider has the right to pay for it, then it limits smaller or any other organization (not part of Free Basics)," he added. He suggested that since operators can't give everything for free, they should charge 'realistic' and affordable rates.

"If they (users) are going to be charged more for a certain set of applications of their choice and directed only to the certain set because the operator says I will give you those for free, then where is there net neutrality?"

Pramanik's remarks come at a time when Facebook has been misleading users in India to sign up in support of Free Basics, and net neutrality advocates have intensified their campaign spreading awareness about net neutrality and pointing out the fallacies in Free Basics initiative. Bhaskar's comments could also spur other industry leaders and startup founders to speak up on the issue.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has set a December 30 deadline to submit comments on the consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, which has reignited the debate on net neutrality.

Source: Economic Times

Abhishek Baxi