Reliance Jio says no preferential access to Facebook, Whatsapp

Reliance Jio will not offer preferential treatment to Facebook or Whatsapp on its network, and remains committed to net neutrality laws, its strategy head Anshuman Thakur said. Speaking to ET, Thakur and Ajit Mohan, Managing Director of Facebook India, said the deal between the two companies was open and transparent and should not face any hurdles in getting clearances from the Competition Commission of India (CCLI), which is the only approval it needs. Edited excerpts:

By when do you expect the deal to close?

Anshuman: This one requires only the CCI approval…the sector gets upto 49% automatic approval. So, we don’t need any other approvals from the government…both the respective companies have approved the transaction.

So, are you looking at a time frame of second half of this fiscal year to close the deal?

Anshuman: I think personally there isn’t so much of impact on competition as we have been saying throughout that this this is not exclusive. Basically, we will keep everything open for everyone. This is an effort towards creating and expanding the ecosystem. And in that sense, the CCI should not have much of an issue but the prerogative lies with them. So tough to guess how much time they will take.

Together, you will be addressing a major part of the Indian mobile phone subscriber base…that is where some say that CCI may have an issue…

Anshuman: You spoke about one in two or possibly even more users will be using either Whatsapp products or Jio products or both products, right. But these are all open market or open architecture products, anybody can have access to these. It’s not about cornering a share of the market where others are not allowed to come in.

FB and RIL have held opposite views on critical issues such as data localization. How will you reconcile this?

Anshuman: Both the organizations are very conscious about data, consumer data and just making sure that that consumer data is respected. And also by abiding by all the regulations. There will be things where we’ll have a difference of opinion and you alluded to one of them, there may be others, but that’s the way it is…both Facebook and Jio are independent entities and there’ll be areas that we will collaborate in but there will be areas where we will potentially not agree with each other either. The Government will also make it clearer and things will be acceptable to everybody.

Ajit: Speaking on behalf of Facebook, there is no data sharing in this… I don’t think we’re going into this assuming that we will have agreement or alignment on everything. I think as Facebook, we continue to believe in an open ecosystem for data to flow across boundaries. And that continues to be our point of view.

There could be concerns around net neutrality with this tie up…It could be around the payments gateway, it could be around speeds of Facebook, Whatsapp apps on the Jio platform. So various areas of concerns. Your thoughts on this?

Anshuman: I think those concerns would be highly unfounded. Let me categorically say that there is no question of giving any preferential treatment as a network provider to anybody, leave aside Facebook.

As it is the net neutrality rules are fairly strict in India. But we’ve been we’ve been proponents of net neutrality right from the beginning.

Jio stands to get nearly Rs44,000 crore. But what exactly does Facebook get in this deal? You’ve had trouble with Free Basics in India. You have had trouble with WhatsApp pay in India. So, what is it that Facebook is looking to gain from this deal in India?

Ajit: We’ve invested into India over the years, I think we have built a family of apps – Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram – that is used by people across the country…And in many ways, I think this is an affirmation of our commitment to India…the fact that this still is happening now (amidst the Covid outbreak), just tells you that our commitment to India is deep.

The second is I think when we look at Jio we feel, it’s a company that has played an extraordinary role in expanding access to affordable 4G over the last four years, and in many ways that set the foundation for the digital transformation that is underway. So, I think the investment signals belief in that and belief in the role that Jio played in driving this transformation and the role that Jio can continue to play.

And thirdly, we do believe that there will be areas for us to collaborate, when we can expand the economic pie where we can create new opportunities where we can open new doors.

Besides the monetary gain, what does this deal bring to Reliance Jio?

Anshuman: In Facebook, we have found a partner who is a leading technology company globally, who can help us with a lot of things that we’re doing, who can advise us, we can collaborate on areas. Also, you know, Facebook, understands this business, understands the space, so they understand the Jio story better than most others would do. So, in fact, the motive is to really work together and learn from Facebook and collaborate in areas where we can develop better products and services for our customers.

So is it a bit of course correction for Jio. Till now, Jio has been developing its own platforms. This is for the first time it’s moving slightly away and enveloping an outside ecosystem player.

Anshuman: Not really…I think right from the start, we have been partnering with companies, we have been partnering with platforms, we have encouraged platforms. Wherever possible we have even collaborated with others. Yes, this is a deeper collaboration than those earlier circumstances. But other than that, it’s not that we are changing track. I think we’ve always wanted to work with companies.

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