TRAI backs net neutrality, rejects differential pricing

Service providers can provide some content for free or on reduced tariff during “grave emergencies” like Chennai floods

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Taru Bhatia | February 8, 2016 | New Delhi




Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Monday took stand for network neutrality and ruled out any content discrimination on the basis of differential pricing or speed by telecom and internet service provider. 

Exercising its power under section 3 of TRAI Act 1997, the regulator has disallowed content discrimination by service providers under the new regulation called Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016. Content including applications, services and any other data including its end-point information that can be accessed or transmitted over internet, shall be accessed equally by consumers without paying extra or less for some.

“Everything on internet is subject to regulation,” said TRAI chairman RS Sharma addressing media on Monday.  The clauses in the regulation allow the regulator to intervene in the matter of violation.

TSPs or ISPs failing to fall in the line will be charged Rs 50, 000 a day by TRAI, the chairman said. The penalty can go up to Rs 50 lakh, as per the new regulation.

However, TRAI made an exception in cases of “grave emergencies” for service providers to provide emergency content to its users for free or on reduced tariff. “In situations of grave emergencies like Chennai floods, service providers can provide some content for free of cost or on reduced tariff which will be taken as exceptional cases,” Sharma said, adding that TSPs or ISPs have to notify TRAI within seven days after implementing such services.

Active services under zero-rating plan that come under the definition of differential pricing, a violation of net neutrality, will be allowed to continue until its expiry date, Sharma highlighted, adding that TSPs will be given six-month time to wind-up their services that falls under  zero-rating plan.

TSPs, including Aitel and Reliance Jio, that came up with zero-rating plans in India stirred debate of net neutrality. It was contested by the supporters of net neutrality that zero-rating plan violates internet freedom for users to access all content equally at any network, without paying extra for some. Moreover, the new or small content providers will be throttled by big players which can afford to subsidise its content to users, claims the supporters.

However, telcos, along with Facebook with its Digital Equality campaign, pushed for Free Basics saying such services will allow disconnected population to come on board through free content medium.

The new regulation will be experimented by TRAI to review its development to make necessary amendments in future.

 

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