Soon after that sensitive debate on net neutrality lost a little bit of heat, Indian telecom regulator has once again added fuel by drafting a consultation paper that seeks comments on zero-rating plans and services with discounted rates provided by certain telecom operators.
In simple terms, Facebook powered “Free Basics”, earlier known as Internet.org, is the center of attraction again. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has drafted a consultation paper to determine whether services like Free Basics, that provides free internet access for certain websites, are legal as per law or not.
This is indeed a sensitive discussion. Bharti Airtel witnessed a severe backlash on and off the social media when it tried to step against the basic principles of net neutrality. TRAI and Flipkart, which were in full support of Airtel’s intentions, were condemned for their wrongful stand. Flipkart had to pull off its partnership and support from Airtel’s project.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s Free Basics has been in center of all these discussions and activities. Since Free Basics project provides free internet to certain websites by collaborating with mobile operators, it has always been questioned whether it is a sheer violation of net neutrality or not.
Despite Zuckerberg’s attempt to defend the project repeatedly, TRAI has once again questioned the legality of this project. The ‘consultation paper on differential pricing for data services’ has sought comments latest by December 30 and counter comments by January 7.
TRAI’s latest paper comes half a year after the regulator had floated a consultation paper on whether over-the-top (OTT) players should be regulated. The move to go against net neutrality by Bharti Airtel was highly opposed by people and the department of telecommunications (DoT) committee.
The DoT panel on net neutrality had defined the core principles of net neutrality as: ‘No blocking’ of any lawful content, ‘no degradation’ of Internet traffic based on the content, application, services or end user, and ‘no paid prioritisation’ which creates discrimination.
As for Facebook’s project and alike services, TRAI has proposed an alternative model saying that the free internet, which is intended to aid poor, should not be limited to one or two telecom operators.
In simple terms, Facebook should not have collaborations with only one telecom operator like Reliance to provide its free internet service. Instead, the service should be provided across all telecom operators and the cost should be reimbursed by Facebook. It is quiet hard to understand whether this would help Facebook or would simply conceive another havoc.
TRAI has also suggested models for promoting mobile Internet, such as the telecom service providers providing some amount of initial data for free to a subscriber without limiting it to any particular content or websites.
However, listing out disadvantages of such plans, the Trai paper said, “It may result in making the entry of certain websites through the pipes of telecom service providers more difficult.”
The consultation paper will seek comments and the committee will make their final decision. We will keep you updated as this discussion progresses.