The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is thinking of giving away a set amount of free data to first-time users of the internet, like the current LPG subsidy system. TRAI had suggested such a proposal in its net neutrality consultation paper.
TRAI’s Differential Pricing for Data Services report had sought comments on whether it would be better to offer free data rather than restricting access to a few select websites, which is what Facebook’s Free Basics is doing. Nandan Nilekani, the ex-chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, supports the potential scheme.
He thinks the government could fund the system of free data by raising money through a yearly levy on telecom brands. An insider told the Economic Times that Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State in the PMO, Harsh Vardhan, the Minister of State for science and technology, and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad were meeting on January 15 to discuss the issue.
The gathering had been arranged to make sure the PMO’s view on the matter of differential pricing is incorporated into the government’s stand on net neutrality, with a special focus on Free Basics. Facebook and TRAI have apparently exchanged 3 letters with each over the past two weeks on the issue.
TRAI alleges that Facebook’s claim of 11 million responses to its net neutrality paper is inaccurate and the actual number was much lower at 18.9 lakh. The authority further said the company’s campaign did not answer the 4 specific questions which had been asked in the paper.
The PMO is keeping an eye on any developments with regards to the internet as the success of the Prime Minister’s Digital India initiative will depend on it.