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Free Basics is not Trojan Horse

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Prabir Purakayastha of the Knowledge Commons has been engaged  for more than  two decades in critiquing governments’  liberalisation  moves and...

It is a corporate social responsibility activity by Facebook
Prabir Purakayastha of the Knowledge Commons has been engaged for more than two decades in critiquing governments’ liberalisation moves and reforms in the delivery of telecom & internet services, demonopolisation of telecoms, entry of private companies and FDI into the sector and corporatisation of DOT’s telecom services.

This is evident from the frequent use of the swear words like telecom and internet monopolies in his article (The Trojan Horse of Free Basics, Hans India, 10 Jan 2016). He says that the telecom and internet monopolies will form cartels by collusion and though some of them may initiate free or cheap rate service but would later through a cartel increase prices to the detriment of the average user. T

his is standard Marxist/Communist line of argument against every non-state enterprise. Is he not aware that our government-owned Railways provide differently priced tickets for travel between the two same destinations, the price differential being related to the time taken for the journey and the comfort provided? Similarly, in the governments’ public distribution system (PDS), certain necessities only are given in limited quantities at subsidised prices while more quantities of the same and other materials can be had only at market prices.

The cost of the subsidies, as every citizen knows, is built into the prices of those which are available in the free market. Similarly, incomes above certain levels are taxed at 10%, 20% and 30% and the amounts so realised are used to subsidise various goods and services including education, health and so on. In the same fashion, certain companies can provide certain services like internet access and data freely or at nominal price and the true cost of these is realised from the prices of other services.

This is the universal practice in free market economies and is in contrast to command markets as in Marxist communist countries. Insinuation is made as to expecting what benefit the company, Facebook, is giving in free access to certain internet websites. Has not the government imposed a 2% compulsory contribution on corporate social responsibility? What will companies get out of that? Even without this government order and legislation, some companies as Tatas have been providing certain services free not only for their employees but even for the community in which their business /industry is located. Why cannot Facebook do likewise? The critics of Free Basics are suggesting that instead of allowing Facebook to offer the Free Basics, government itself should give freely a certain amount of whatever data an internet user downloads from any website.

There can be no objection to this. Governments are already doing such things. For example, the Telangana government has abolished property tax for properties whose rental value is below a certain amount. Similarly, certain units of electricity are given free to poor people. The cost of all these free/subsidised goods and services is realised from enhanced taxes and charges and rates for the same services by large consumers. There is no ban on any private company or any organisation supplementing such services to the poor.

Are there not tens of thousands of NGOs who are providing some services free while such services are also bought by some consumers at market prices from private and government providers ? Any and every internet user can have a subscription both to Free Basics as well as any other internet service provider.

It is fashionable for some writers and activists to criticise and denounce every action of private companies and extol state capitalism, otherwise popularly dished out as socialism, welfarism and inclusive growth despite the humongous scams the socialist, progressive political ministers and their colluding civil servants (or masters) indulge in with impunity. (The writer is Director, Center for Telecom Management & Studies, Chairman, Pragna Bharati, Andhra Pradesh, Fellow of Tata Consultancy Services, former IT Advisor To Government of Andhra Pradesh, and former Chairman & Managing Director, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd)

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