In a huge setback for Facebook’s free internet schemes, Internet.org and Free Basics, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has banned differential pricing for data in India.
Telecoms are prohibited from entering into arrangements that have the same effect as charging discriminatory tariffs on the basis of content. Thus, an arrangement by which, instead of a service provider differentially charging tariffs to the consumer, other arrangements are made by the TSPs which in effect make accessing some content cheaper, for example through a refund to the consumer or other methods, are likewise barred. A violation will lead to a stiff fine of Rs 50,000 per day, the regulator said.
Earlier, the regulatory body had issued two consulation papers – one in December 2016 about differential data pricing and the one in early 2015 about over-the-top (OTT) services. Trai also gave service providers six months to comply with the new rules. The move will make platforms like Facebook Free Basics and Airtel Zero illegal.
TRAI suspended Free Basics a few weeks ago, arguing that it violates the principle of net neutrality.
The ruling has brought an end to a mammoth debate on net neutrality going on in the country over Free Basics services offered by social media giant Facebook.
The decision was announced by TRAI chairman RS Sharma on Monday. However, the regulation will not apply to tariffs for data services over closed communication networks, unless tariffs offered evade prohibition of this regulation.
“We have come out with a regulation which are essentially mandate that no service provider shall charge differential pricing”.
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.
For those uninitiated, it began with TRAI floating a consultation paper seeking views if differential pricing should be allowed, amidst the whole net neutrality debate.