On a cold Thursday afternoon, arguments and counter arguments on Net Neutrality and Facebook’s ‘Free Basic’ could well heat up the Lakshmipat Singhania Auditorium in the Capital. It is here that the telecom regulator’s open house is scheduled to discuss ‘differential prices for data services’, with telecom operators, the regulator and consumers in full attendance.
If the arguments, till now on paper, are any indication, the debate on net neutrality and free basic are sure to inflame passions.
Allegations and counter allegations by telecom regulator, operators and consumers in telecom sector are not new. But there have been a few issues that have witnessed rush of high adrenaline among the stakeholders that included one of the first major debate after TRAI was set up in 1997.
It was related to allowing Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) to offer mobile services, supported by government, consumers and opposed by operators in 1999. Then it was the limited mobile service or ‘poor man’s’ mobile in 2002 debate, supported by customers with operators divided on the issue.
Latest before net neutrality, it was call drop and penal action, supported by consumers and government, opposed by operators.
The irony of all these issue is—none of them were resolved by the TRAI. It was either adjudicated by the courts, pending before courts, or solved by the government through legislative measures.
Will the issue of net neutrality and free basic to be debated on Thursday also look to take the same route?
“Globally countries are looking at these issues (net neutrality and free basics) from consumer benefit and are moving logically towards the path of legislation. In India too, the solution lies in examining it the same way minus emotions,” says Romal Shetty Head Telecommunications, KPMG.
But has TRAI been given enough opportunity to resolve the issue or has it handled it badly?
The opinions are divided. “They should take more time, than rush through such an important issue,” says a chief of regulatory affairs with a top telecom operator.
“TRAI has done what it was allowed in the TRAI Act, it is difficult to please all, but the regulator is dealing with an issue that many others across the world are also struggling,” says Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst and CEO of Greyhound Research.