India's telcoms regulator says it will ignore Facebook's astroturf army

Facebook's misleading, high budget astroturf campaign sent over 14 lakh (1.4m) comments to TRAI, the Indian telcoms regulator, almost none of which responded to the questions raised in the regulator's Net Neutrality consultation paper.

TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma said that the regulator will discard these responses, because "Consultation papers are not opinion polls. We expect the stakeholders who participate to provide meaningful inputs."

The consultation asks whether "differential pricing" is permissible. Facebook has a program (whose name, this week, is "Free Basics," though it's also been called "Internet Zero") to bribe telcoms operators to not charge for the Web-sites and -services that Facebook chooses as acceptable for Indian Internet users.

Opponents of appointing Facebook to serve as gatekeeper to India's Internet also asked their supporters to write to the regulator on the issue. However, Facebook's opponents' comments actually responded to the consultation paper's questions, so the regulator will consider their responses, even as it ignores the comments Facebook spent all that money on.

Till Thursday morning, the regulator had received 18.27 lakh comments on the consultation paper, with over 14 lakh being template comments in support of Free Basics, either through mobile or emails. In contrast, the responses (about 3.81 lakh) filed using a platform by, too, were received in the template format, but these addressed the questions raised in the consultation paper.

For those who have expressed support for Free Basics through email, the TRAI plans to write back, seeking response on differential pricing of data services. "I don't have any comments to make on Free Basics. It may be a great idea. We have not mentioned it in our consultation paper also… Free Basics uses differential pricing as one of the means to offer their product. It's not that they are not linked. But this is just one product, multiple products can be developed using this architecture and we just wanted to consult if this architecture should be allowed," he explained.

Consultation paper is not an opinion poll: TRAI chairman
[Yuthika Bhargava and Vikas Dhoot/The Hindu]