The telecom sector regulator TRAI has banned differential pricing of data products. The ruling bars zero-rated internet services altogether.
This comes as a big blow to controversial products like Airtel Zero and Facebook’s FreeBasics which now won’t be allowed to be offered in the country, marking a significant win for the proponents of net neutrality.
TRAI said that no service provider can offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
Simply put, the ruling means that a user cannot be charged differently based on whether she/he is watching videos or doing shopping on the Internet, or browsing a social media site. The regulations come into effect immediately.
— PIB India (@PIB_India) February 8, 2016
Giving reason for its ruling, TRAI said that since any telecom service provider (TSP) offering data services does not control the internet infrastructure in its entirety and is dependent on several other networks to facilitate this task. So, letting any one TSP to charge differentially for data that it does not alone process, could compromise the entire architecture of the internet itself.
“Allowing price differentiation based on the type of content being accessed on the itnternet,would militate against the very basis on which the internet has developed and transformed the way we connect with one another,” it said in its ruling.
“No service provider shall enter into any arrangement or contract that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services,” a TRAI statement said.
TRAI also said that no new launches of prohibited packs/plans or vouchers shall be permitted.
A service provider may reduce tariff for accessing or providing emergency services (like flood), the body ruled. TRAI may review these regulations after a period of two years.
TRAI will also levy a penalty of Rs. 50,000 a day, and up to a maximum of Rs 50 lakh, for discriminatory tariffs charged by service providers.
Net Neutrality envisages that service providers will treat all data on the Internet equally.
“Keeping in view India’s large number of internet users and content producers, both of which are rising exponentially, the Authority has taken a view that prohibition of discriminatory tariff for data services is necessary to ensure that service providers continue to fulfil their obligations in keeping the internet open and non-discriminatory,” said TRAI.
Trai also gave service providers six months to comply with the new rules.
The regulator’s order is in the form of a regulation which does not need to be cleared by the government.
The decision comes as a disappointment for Facebook, which has spent a lot of time, money and effort trying to roll out the scheme in India. And it’s already had to shut down a similar scheme in Egypt.
The US company had said that Free Basics will give access to web for free to millions of Indias, but critics said it will only allow access to select sites and therefore is against the concept of net neutrality.
Earlier Airtel had also attempted to launch a zero-rated product Airtel Zero in April 2015, but had put it on the backburner after facing a severe backlash on social and other media from the supporters of net neutrality.
Here are some reactions on Twitter:
#TRAI– Nicely done, digital equality and faith of the people restored.
— Follow Eknath Khadse (@FollowKhadse) February 8, 2016
Will facebook/reliance just keep quiet over this TRAI decision? Doubtful. Greed leaves one to finally attempt… https://t.co/G88aLWS8sl
— Pravin R Kotian (@KotianPravin) February 8, 2016
— Shubham Verma (@_SHUBH_AM) February 8, 2016
A big win for net neutrality in India. TRAI will impose Rs. 50,000 fine on the offenders. Thanks for keeping the internet neutral & free.
— TeJaS PaTiL (@tazzpatil) February 8, 2016
— Aakash Gauttam (@AakashGauttam) February 8, 2016
— HassanH (@hasibrock) February 8, 2016
— iAmMusa (@onlyursmusa) February 8, 2016
Thank you TRAI 😊
— Ratheesh Baskar (@Ratheesh_tweets) February 8, 2016
Also SeeTop Most Characters of Mahabharata
— Manju N Murthy (@manju_murthy) February 8, 2016
Mark Zuckerburg, right now, after TRAI’s decision!!!!
Try your “misleading” gimmicks in some other country (y) https://t.co/vCTTbyTct9
— sibu (@16sibu) February 8, 2016
— Mohit Dhawan (@manuudhawan) February 8, 2016
Mark Zuckerberg and his money guzzling Free Basics advertisements have been rejected by the TRAI. #NetNeutrality
— Harsh Shah (@harsh_shah811) February 8, 2016
— Sunil Kumar (@sunilkumar_g56) February 8, 2016
— ZOY (@zoy_pal21) February 8, 2016
#TRAI bars companies from offering data on discriminatory basis.Does that mean that they can’t offer the bundled pack (1 GB in 100 Rs) ?
— Keyur (@gr8xpectationss) February 8, 2016
My favourite part of the TRAI press con is this quote by the chairman. “The internet is agnostic.” #NetNeutrality
— amrita madhukalya (@visually_kei) February 8, 2016
Ecsatic about TRAI’s decision. Defacto Its a big win. Absolutely concurred It needs a strategic fine print. https://t.co/8UzpaObyKD
— Anwesh Gudepu (@AnweshGudepu) February 8, 2016
And TRAI has said anything can’t be charged differently. But is free = charged?
— mobileyog (@mobileyog) February 8, 2016
When TRAI listens, when a misselling scam is squashed, then faith in institutions is restored. The goal is free internet for all.
— meetasengupta (@Meetasengupta) February 8, 2016
I can already see activists rushing to TRAI to increase the fines by about a 1000 times 😛
— Journal Entry (@abhility) February 8, 2016
#NetNeutrality yipppeeee, now we are talking!! High 5 to TRAI and all who contributed in big ways and small. Together we can.
— Arpana Rawat (@ArpanaR1) February 8, 2016
How many of those celebrating the TRAI decision use Wynk for free with their 3G/4G data packs? I’d wager a substantial % would.
— Jayanth Kumar A K (@jayanthkumarak) February 8, 2016
— Namaste_Obama (@Namaste_Obama) February 8, 2016
TRAI slams Facebook’s ‘I support Free Basics’ campaign, calls it wholly misleading, ensuring #NetNeutrality . Good move !!
— Samir Abbas (@TheSamirAbbas) February 8, 2016