Free Basics row: PMO steps into debate on differential pricing

The PMO has stepped into the raging debate on ‘differential pricing of data services’ with the treatment of Facebook’s Free Basics at the heart, as top ministers discuss outlines of the final policy, which could be at the centre of the government’s formal net neutrality position.

Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the PMO, and Harsh Vardhan, minister of state for science & technology, are scheduled to meet Communications & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday for the second time in a week to ensure the final policy incorporates the PMO’s views.

This will be the second meeting between the ministers to discuss the implications of differential pricing of data services with a special focus on Facebook’s Free Basics. Facebook is currently locked in a war of words with the telecom regulator over the responses made through the social network’s platform to a consultation paper on differential pricing of data services, which again triggered a controversy over net neutrality.

“The PMO is watching this space very closely. ‘Digital India’ is a pet programme of the PM and any policy pertaining to Internet will be critical for the success of this ambitious programme,” sources said.

Another person said the options being discussed include the possibility of the government providing some amount of mobile Internet data free to first-time users and free direct benefit transfer data packs along the lines of LPG subsidy.

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