Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) extended the last date for receiving comments on its paper on differential data pricing – a key aspect of the raging debate on net neutrality – by about a week to January 7, 2016. The date has been extended at a time when social network Facebook has launched a massive campaign in support of its Free Basics Internet service, which has been dubbed in various quarters as violating the principle of net neutrality. The faculty from IITs and IISc have strongly opposed the initiative taken by Facebook.

“We have extended it to January 7 mainly due to request from telecom industry bodies,” Trai Chairman R S Sharma said.

The deadline for comments on the paper was ending on Wednesday. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) also extended last date for counter comments January 14 but said “that no request for any further extension of time for submission of comments/counter comments shall be entertained.”

Although the paper by Trai does not mention or use the term net neutrality, it details the idea of zero-rating platforms that have stirred up a big debate on the issue across the country. As per SavetheInternet forum, the net neutrality principle says that internet service providers should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that rides over their networks.

TRAI has received about 16.5 lakh comments — the highest ever on any paper floated by it till date, sources said. The debate has seen participation of prominent personalities, including former IT minister Milind Deora.

“It’s neither free nor villainous, as claimed. Allow multiple such initiatives or none. It’s really that basic, free or otherwise #FreeBasics,” Deora tweeted.

BJD MP Baijayant Jay Panda said, “#FreeBasics like #HotelCalifornia  u can check out (sponsors’ sites) anytime u like, but u can nvr leave (for any of zillion other sites).

Official sources said comments received through Facebook or Free Basics platform are around 8 lakh. The regulator has also received similar number of messages from people opposing Facebook’s Free Basics and other zero-rating programmes, and about 3,000 individual messages.

Industry body The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), whose members include Facebook, Google and other Internet companies, has voiced against platforms like Free Basics that can lead to creation of different prices of Net based on content or websites people want to access.

However, NGO Telecom Watchdog has favoured Free Basics kind of projects saying that “any proposal that offers free services to general public including the one being offered by Facebook under the brand ‘Free Basics'” should not be rejected.

With PTI Inputs 

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