TRAI bats for Net neutrality

| | Updated on: Feb 08, 2016






No Airtel Zero or Facebook Free Basics for now

In a blow to Facebook and telecom operators, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio, the telecom regulator on Monday said that tariff for data services cannot vary on the basis of type of content being accessed by users.

This jeopardises telecom operators’ plans to offer services such as ‘Zero Rating’, launched by Airtel, which offered users free access to certain websites. Facebook and Reliance Communications will also have to roll back the ambitious ‘Free Basics’ programme as it offers cheaper access to select websites.

While the telecom operators and Facebook had argued that such schemes were needed to make internet affordable to a larger population, TRAI said that this was discriminatory and went against the principle of fair competition. “Anything on the internet cannot be differentiated (in price) on the basis of source, destination, content or application. No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content,” said RS Sharma, Chairman, TRAI.

According to the Authority’s regulation paper ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’ released on Monday, tariff for data services cannot vary on the basis of the website/ application/ platform/ type of content being accessed. TRAI will impose a ₹50,000-a-day penalty on the service provider if discriminatory tariff is charged, subject to a maximum of ₹50 lakh.

It also said such regulations are necessary to ensure that the telecom service providers (TSPs) continue to fulfil their obligations in keeping the internet open and non-discriminatory. TSPs are also prohibited from entering into arrangements that have the same effect as charging discriminatory tariffs on the basis of content, it said.

Telecom companies said they were disappointed with the new regulation. Rajan Mathews, Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said, “Price differentiation would have taken us closer to connecting the one billion unconnected citizens of India. TRAI has ignored all the benefits of price differentiation that industry had submitted.”

But proponents of Net neutrality backed the TRAI’s move. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament, said, “This is a big win for Indian consumers. The days of telcos controlling regulatory policy are over.”

IT industry body Nasscom said the regulator has adopted a balanced approach.

However, TRAI may have left a window of opportunity for the telecom operators by allowing them to offer differential pricing in a closed group.

“Differential tariffs being offered for data transmitted over closed electronic communications networks, such as intranets are not prohibited by these regulations,” TRAI said.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India said it hoped that the exceptions to the rule will not be misused by the operators.

Published on January 23, 2018

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