According to Broadband India Forum (BIF), net neutrality and data protection concerns surrounding the recent Facebook-Jio platforms deal erroneous, farfetched and not based on facts. BIF has highlighted that net neutrality rules are now unambiguously written into the telecom service providers (TSP) licences and so they are inviolate. Also, the data protection framework to guard consumer interests is under process and is shortly expected to come out as a legislated act. Hence the second fear is also unfounded.

In fact, BIF has warmly lauded the recent huge investment of $5.7 billion by Facebook through a 9.99 per cent stake in Jio Platforms as a big positive note for the digital services sector in the country. BIF believes that the incidence of such a major investment decision coming in the midst of the gloom of the global COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant economic fallout, strongly underlines the tremendous resilience, vitality and outlook of the sector for the future, despite the trying times being faced by the industry at present.

BIF stated that they believe this partnership between Facebook and Jio could be especially beneficial to over 50 million micro, small and medium businesses, over 100 million farmers, about 30 million small merchants and many millions of small and medium enterprises in the informal sector across India. The pact signed between Jio Platforms, Reliance Retail and WhatsApp to cross-leverage ecommerce platform JioMart and WhatsApp is also clearly aimed at facilitating new business opportunities by enabling a seamless digital connectivity experience between the consumer and local businesses/shops/kirana stores. In doing so, the collaboration is expected to be suited to help people and businesses operate more effectively in the growing digital economy, by bringing together an efficient mechanism for purchase and delivery of products or procurement of services at the local levels, whereby consumers will be provided with convenience, and the small businesses can benefit through efficiency of scale and reach. This is especially relevant in the present circumstances, wherein the COVID-19 crisis has constrained consumers’ options, severely impacted the supply chain and normal business practices, and thereby necessitated added innovative measures from the smaller businesses to cater to the essential needs of the consumers.

BIF stated that its entire large membership, which includes both Jio and Facebook, is deeply committed to the cause of ‘Broadband for All’ involving the proliferation of affordable high quality broadband and involving the  principles of liberalisation and  competition, as well as scrupulous adherence to the regulations with regard to net neutrality, data protection, etc. BIF feels there is no place whatsoever for any negativism as regards India’s Digital Future or Make in India.

Commenting on the development, T.V. Ramachandran, president, Broadband India Forum, said, “Facebook and Jio, both esteemed members of BIF, and leaders in their respective business verticals, have come together through this move and reaffirmed the promise and potential that the future holds for the Digital Services sector in the country. The critical importance of this sector has been amply demonstrated by the major role it has played, and continues to play in these difficult times to mitigate the ill-effects of the pandemic, while maintaining near-normalcy in the country. BIF is happy to note that this investment decision will further boost India’s attractiveness in the global investment community, especially in the digital domain.”

This move will further strengthen the prospects of the broadband ecosystem in India, which has already set global benchmarks in terms of data consumption on a per subscriber basis, to the tune of 11GB/per user/month, and steadily rising. The rapid adoption and uptake of digital technologies in the country has spurred socio-economic development substantially, and such investments will provide tremendous impetus to enabling further social inclusion and empowerment.