The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Monday ruled against differential pricing for Internet services, in a setback to Facebook Inc's plan to roll out free Internet to the masses in Asia's third-largest economy. TRAI said that Internet service providers would not be allowed to discriminate on pricing of data access for different web services.
Facebook's Free Basics plan, launched in around three dozen developing countries, offers pared-down web services on mobile phones, along with access to Facebook's own social network and messaging services, without charge.
Critics had argued that allowing access to a select few apps and web services for free violates the principle of net neutrality - the principle that all websites and data on the Internet should be treated equal.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will levy a charge of Rs 50,000 per day if they are found to be offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for content-based data services. The service provider may however, reduce the tariffs for emergency services.
This comes amidst the ongoing debate over the net neutrality issue between service providers and netizens in the country. The concern was over access restriction to feree and open internet. Facebook’s Free Basic initiative was also under the scanner in India. Activists took to the social platform to get the discrimination under control, which led the TRAI to take charge and come up with a decision.
The TRAI released an update on prohibition of discriminatory tariffs for data service regulations. It is available on the TRAI website.
Chapter II, point number 3 mentions the prohibition of discriminatory tariffs. It 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: Provided that this regulation shall not apply to tariffs for data services over closed electronic communications networks, unless such tariffs are offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
- The decision of the Authority as to whether a service provider is in contravention of this regulation shall be final and binding.
Point number 4 reads out the exemption for certain content:
Notwithstanding anything contained in regulation 3, a service provider may reduce tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of grave public emergency: Provided that such tariff shall be reported to the Authority within seven working days from the date of implementation of the reduced tariff and the decision of the Authority as to whether such reduced tariff qualifies under this regulation shall be final and binding.
The consequences of contravention of the above regulation:
If a service provider is in contravention of these regulations, the Authority may, without prejudice to the terms and conditions of licence, or the Act or rules or regulations or orders made, or directions issued, there under, 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, subject to a maximum of rupees fifty lakh: Provided that no order for payment of any amount by way of financial disincentive shall be made by the Authority unless the service provider has been given a reasonable opportunity of representing against the contravention of the regulation.
The amount payable by way of financial disincentive under these regulations shall be remitted to such head of account as may be specified by the Authority.
Some practices have come to the notice of the Authority wherein differential tariffs were offered based on the content/websites/applications/platforms. Primarily, two key principles of tariff regulation - non-discrimination and transparency were getting impacted from such practices and required consultation.
Taking note of these, the Authority on 9.12.2015 released a Consultation Paper (CP) on Differential Pricing for Data Services inviting comments from stakeholders on whether service providers should be allowed to have "differential pricing for data usage for accessing different websites, applications or platforms" and other related issues.
The Authority may review these regulations after the expiry of a period of two years from the date on which these regulations come into effect, or on any earlier date as it may deem fit....