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Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Trai issues paper on free Internet services

Trai releases a consultation paper to offer consumers free Internet services within the net neutrality framework

New Delhi: Three months after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) prohibited services such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero, it released a consultation paper on Thursday to offer consumers free Internet services within the net neutrality framework.

The paper addresses three issues: first, provide models to service providers to have a non-discriminatory platform to provide free data while adhering to net neutrality rules; second, seek comments on whether such platforms should be governed by Trai or developers of these platforms; and third, whether free data or suitable reimbursements should be made available only to mobile data users or to subscribers of fixed-line broadband and leased lines.

The last date for comments is 16 June and that of counter-comments is 30 June.

In July 2015, a government-appointed committee on net neutrality said that zero rating should be equal for content providers. Trai later issued guidelines on the same in January after considering comments and recommendations from stakeholders on its consultation paper. The paper issued by Trai revolved mainly around discriminatory pricing issues.

Nikhil Pahwa, a SavetheInternet volunteer, said there isn’t any need for this paper as these issues have already been addressed. “It is surprising to see Trai come out with this paper as it looks like a clarification to the regulation issued earlier by the regulator. The toll-free model or reimbursement model have the same impact as zero-rating, which is against what Trai had mentioned in the regulation. These two models shouldn’t be allowed," Pahwa said.

In its paper, Trai maintained that “the model should facilitate the unconnected and under-connected consumer to become better connected and should not allow any TSP (telecom service provider) or large company playing a gatekeeper or biased role".

The paper proposes three models for free data delivery to customers without technically violating the regulations issued earlier.

The first model is a reward-based model through which consumers will be offered rewards in the form of recharges or mobile data for performing a desired action. It aims to work on the lines of Discovery apps that provide incentives for engagements like mCent, earntalktime. Earntalktime is an app through which consumers can earn money or talk time when they install a mobile app or shop using the application.

The other model suggested by Trai is to have a toll-free API (application program Interface) or “don’t charge" API, which the paper claims will help subscribers without any balance as they will not be charged.

The last model proposed in the paper is reimbursing/recharging the subscriber with the amount incurred, measuring real-time data usage and tariffs applied on same. It will work on the lines of how cooking gas subsidies are transferred to beneficiaries, wherein a user pays the full price first but gets partly reimbursed by the government.

Lobby group Cellular Operators Association of India had earlier this week sought clarifications on discriminatory pricing on Closed Electronic Communications Networks (CECN). “While Trai has prohibited telecom service providers to offer differential tariffs for data services on the basis of content, it has allowed the same over CECN network. A transparent understanding with adequate illustrations and clarity is necessary on the concept of CECN enunciated in Trai’s regulation," the letter stated.

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