The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Monday ruled in favour of net neutrality and said that no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariff for data services on the basis of content. Moreover, any telecom company found flouting the rule will be fined Rs 50,000 a day. The regulator also said service providers cannot enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract that promotes discriminatory pricing of data on the internet. TRAI will review these guidelines after a period of two years.
A TRAI committee had previously rejected telecom operators' offer to discuss differential pricing of data on the Internet, saying customers should not be constrained from accessing any kind of service or product on the web.
The final guidelines announced by the telecom watchdog is a major blow to Facebook's pet project Free Basics (previously internet.org), which is aimed at providing free/subsidised but regulated Internet plans to customers. The social media major has been campaigning extensively to garner support for the service that it launched in collaboration with Reliance Communications. After the campaign kicked up a controversy, TRAI asked Reliance to put the service on hold till further notice. Under the new guidelines, the Anil Ambani-led telecom company will have to scrap its partnership with the social media giant.
In an 11-page consultation paper released in December, the telecom watchdog had sought suggestions from industry stakeholders on differential pricing and its effects on net neutrality. It also held an open house discussion at the HD Chamber of Commerce in New Delhi.
The SaveTheInternet.in Coalition, a group of net neutrality activists, welcomed the guidelines and said that the consultation on net neutrality, which began in March 2015, has been a truly democratic process with millions of Indians taking part in the debate. They also praised TRAI for standing firm despite attempts by a few stakeholders to undermine the process. Last month, the group sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with signatures of founders of over 500 start-ups supporting net neutrality and opposing the differential-pricing regime for data.