New Delhi, February 8 2016 ( updated 2030 hrs): The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has banned service providers from charging differential prices for accessing the Internet. In an order released today, TRAI has effectively closed the doors to initiatives like Facebook's Free Basics where some Net sites are available for free.
The operative part of the gazette notification reads:
No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person , natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged to the consumer on the basis of content.
Contravention invites a stiff fine:
If a service provider is in contravention of these regulations , the Authority may.....direct the service provider to withdraw such tariff and also order such service provider to pay, by way of financial disincentive, an amount of rupees fifty thousand for each day of contravention.
Data packs which currently offer such dual pricing can be used till they are exhausted.
REACTIONS: For and Against
NASSCOM welcomed the TRAI announcement: In line with NASSCOM’s recommendation, TRAI has retained the provision to allow for reduced tariffs for public emergency. With an increasingly digitally connected population, it is important to leverage this medium in extreme situations where there is need for rescue, support and critical information. We are grateful to the regulator for adopting a balanced approach, and their reposing faith in stakeholder consultations.
R. Chandrashekhar, President, NASSCOM said, “Our submission highlighted the importance of net neutrality principles, non-discriminatory access and transparent business models aligned to the goal of enhancing internet penetration in the country. The TRAI announcement resounds with the submission made by NASSCOM and we would like to congratulate TRAI for enshrining the principles of net neutrality”.
The Cellular Operators Association of India expressed disappointment:|
Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI said“The telecom industry is disappointed with TRAI’s decision to rule out differential pricing. COAI had approached the regulator with the reasons to allow price differentiation as the move would have taken us closer to connecting the one billion unconnected citizens of India. By opting to turn away from this opportunity, TRAI has ignored all the benefits of price differentiation that we had submitted as a part of the industry’s response to its consulting paper, including improving economic efficiency, increase in broadband penetration, reduction in customer costs and provision of essential services among other things. In our opinion, TRAI’s regulation on prohibiting differential pricing constitutes a welfare-reducing measure of high concern by blocking a possible avenue for our less-advantaged citizens to move to increased economic growth and prosperity by harnessing the power of the Internet. We believe that this measure will have an impact on the Government’s ambitious Digital India initiative.”