India’s telecom watchdog, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), may come out with the final guidelines on differential pricing on Monday as it rejected operators’ offer to discuss net neutrality or differential pricing.
“The final guidelines on differential pricing are to be released anytime today -- possibly in the next few hours,” TRAI sources told HT.
The rejection of the offer to discuss differential pricing can be seen as a possible indication to TRAI’s stance against the issue of allowing differential pricing. Sources also confirmed that it was a unanimous decision by all members of the TRAI’s committee who were working on the issue. The committee decided that customers should not be constrained from accessing any kind of service or product on the internet.
Differential pricing for data, which is exactly what it sounds like — is charging customers different prices for access to different websites and services. If mobile operators had their way, you would get a separate bill for using WhatsApp, another one for watching YouTube videos, yet another one for making a Skype call — and pay nothing at all for using Facebook because guess what, Papa Zuck struck a deal.
TRAI had released a 11-page consultation paper on differential pricing in December seeking industry stakeholders comments about arriving at different alternatives to zero-rated services or services that can have the same effect but would keep the internet free and neutral.
Later, the watchdog held an open house discussion on differential pricing at the PHD Chamber of Commerce in New Delhi after stakeholders and individuals had submitted their comments about differential pricing and its effects on net neutrality. In their comments, the telecom operators and Facebook had sent replies in favour of differential pricing with interests in providing free/subsidised but regulated internet plans (like Airtel Zero or Facebook’s Free Basics) to the customers.
Before the open house discussion, TRAI had asked asked Reliance Communications to put a hold on Free Basics (previously Internet.org) till the time the final guidelines were laid out due to a raging controversy on net neutrality. To which Facebook retaliated by asking its users to send in responses to TRAI, favouring Free Basics.Once all the responses were in, TRAI questioned Facebook’s methods which resulted in a series of exchanges made public by TRAI.
As the debate refused to die down, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh met telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to discuss the issues related to differential data pricing -- a key factor in Digital India and Make-In-India initiatives. Later, reports hinted that the PMO may soon start providing first time Internet users in the country with some amount of free mobile Internet data like LPG subsidy.