Facebook tie-up offers 'free' internet in India, really?

Users will have to link their bank accounts, in order to use the service. (Reuters)

UAE telecom operators Du and Etisalat first came out with ‘free’ social network packages, allowing users to access certain social networking sites for free.

Now, a social networking site has joined with a telecom service provider in India to almost do the same.

Facebook has roped in India’s Reliance Communications to offer a bouquet of websites free to customers.

It is also part of the Internet.Org initiative of Facebook that aims at creating a connected world.

What it means is that customers subscribing to the telecom operator will be able to access these websites across both 2G and 3G platforms.

Initially, only a few states in India, including Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, will be covered.

With the Etisalat and Du offer, customers are only be able to get the social data package on a recharge of Dh5 and above.

There is also a limitation - fair usage policy – which means you cannot exceed a certain amount of data.

The Etisalat social package only allows Facebook. Twitter, and & BBM to be used as part of the package.

Similarly, the Facebook and Reliance agreement means that you can only access certain sites such as Wikipedia, commercial travel site Cleartrip, news sites such as BBC, Times of India and NDTV, and Microsoft’s search engine Bing.

Reliance- Facebook customers while allowing its users to browse free using Bing, will have to pay for Google and travel sites such as Expedia.

When Du made the announcement it was specifically asked about giving preference to some social networking sites over others and at that time  Fahad Al Hassam, Chief Commercial Officer, Du had said, “We have included some of the most commonly used and popular platforms.”

Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics, said, “From a consumers’ perspective anything that is free is always welcome. If you want anything additional, you can always pay and subscribe.” “However, one needs to remember that there is no free lunch at the end of the day,” said Panjabi.

According to Justin Prince, Product development Manager at a company in Dubai Silicon Oasis, a better way to work around the situation is to give users the option to choose.

“Telecom companies have an option where we can choose one or two numbers as favorites for discounted call rates. Similarly, when offering a social package, we could be offered a choice to choose four of our preferred social networks,” he says.

Another mechanism is to simply give away free data, whatever is fixed as a far usage policy. “That way we are being very clear on what is allowed and users have the choice to do whatever they want with that data,” he added. 


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