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Facebook’s Free Internet Project Hits a Snag in India

The debate between Facebook and India's regulators is heating up.

On Tuesday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) questioned the methods used by Facebook to lobby for Free Basics, a program meant to bring free Internet services to India.

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Some critics say the program violates the principles of "net neutrality" because it makes some websites and services available at no cost, while charging for broader access.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in April that "arguments about net neutrality shouldn't be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity."

To settle the debate, TRAI wanted Facebook to ask its users four questions about the fairness of "differential pricing." Instead, TRAI said in a public letter, Facebook provided users with a boilerplate response suggesting lines such as "shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country's most vulnerable people" and "I support Free Basics — and digital equality for India."

Related: World Bank Not So Sure About Facebook's Free Internet Service

TRAI said the move had "the flavor of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise" into a "crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll."

A Facebook spokesperson told NBC News that TRAI asked for the questions to be answered only after 11.7 million people had already sent in their comments.

"While we did not include all of the specific language drafted by TRAI, we did deliver a request for additional information and included in the draft email the exact language from the four specific questions posed in the consultation paper," Facebook said. "More than 1.4 million Indians responded by submitting revised comments that addressed these questions."

Facebook, meanwhile, complained that TRAI blocked messages from Facebook email accounts for several weeks. TRAI said it would have fixed the problem if it had been notified as soon as the matter was discovered.