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TRAI Deals Blow To Facebook, Bars Any Telecom Provider From Differential Pricing Of Data Services

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The Indian telecom regulator, TRAI has finally delivered its verdict on the debate of net neutrality. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has banned any telecom provider from capping differential pricing towards data services based on content, dealing a massive (and much needed) blow to Facebook.

This decision comes as a conquest for those in favour of net neutrality. For Facebook and Airtel on the other hand, the decision brings to end months of campaigning in favour of their differential pricing products, the Free Basics and Airtel Zero respectively. Now onwards, both the services have been barred from operation in the country following the decision.

No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation,

TRAI said in a statement.

TRAI has also issued a warning to any telecom providers not to enter into any agreements to charge differential amounts based on content. If any telecom provider is found to be doing so, the telecom providers will be fined anywhere between Rs. 50,000-50 lakh.

TRAI’s ruling allows for only one exception. In case of an emergency, the telecom provers can reduce prices on data services. But in this case, the telecom regulatory authority has to be notified at least seven days prior to the application.

Only exemption – tariffs may be reduced for accessing emergency services or at times of public emergency,

Trai stated, adding that telecom providers have six months to comply with the ruling.

TRAI had earlier asked Reliance Communications not to charge differential pricing under Facebook’s Free Basics service. This prompted the social networking giant to kick start print, television and online advertising streak promoting the benefits of Free Basics. Similarly, Airtel’s launch of a capped data service, the Airtel Zero also met with a similar fate in April last year.

In lieu of heated debates both for and against the differential pricing of data services, TRAI had issued a consultation paper in December asking investors in the telecom industry for opinions. This prompted Facebook to being its aggressive media campaigning promoting Free Basics. This led TRAI to issue a warning to Facebook stating that the campaign was a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”.


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