Giving a huge blow to Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) today announced its verdict on offering differential pricing for data products. The regulatory body totally discarded the idea of offering discriminatory tariffs for data services based on the content. With this ruling, net neutrality in India prevailed.
Its statement read as follows, “No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.” It also prevented the service providers from entering into data agreements or contracts that will result in differential pricing offered on the basis of the content. This implies that the service providers cannot enter into any agreement with services like Whatsapp, Twitter etc., and offer the same to customers as subsidized data packages. Currently, telecom providers offer such packages to attract customers.
The regulatory body, however, has issued an exception, ‘the regulation will not apply to tariffs for data services over closed communication networks unless tariffs offered evade prohibition of this regulation.’ “Only exemption – tariffs may be reduced for accessing emergency services or at times of public emergency,” TRAI said. In such case of emergency, the tariffs should be reported to TRAI within seven working days from the date of implementation from the order.
The penalty for defaulters is also fixed. The service providers, who violate the said rules of net neutrality will be bound to pay Rs 50,000 a day, capped at Rs 50 lakh. These newly formed regulations and its associated orders completely come under the purview of TRAI and its decisions would be final. The Government need not clear the orders.
Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the largest industry body in the country representing the interests of online and mobile value added services industry called the net neutrality regulation of TRAI as ‘bold and fair’. “This ruling vindicates the associations stand on the issue. The internet Start-up eco-system and the internet user community are delighted,” IAMAI said.
TRAI has given six months for the service providers to comply with the regulations.
The net neutrality became an issue of debate when Airtel launched ‘Zero’ in April 2015. Owing to the rising backlash from the citizens, Airtel withdrew the launch. Facebook’s internet.org, which is popularly now known as ‘Free Basics’ promoted the product throughout the country saying it would help the millions of unconnected Indians to connect online. However, as such offers allow the access of only selected websites, proponents of net neutrality called it ‘against the concept of net neutrality’.