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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has finalized the draft of its recommendations with regards to the highly ambitious public WiFi network. The body is now ready to make a submission and it appears that it has decided to ensure that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, has access to data.

While speaking with FactorDaily, Ram Sewak Sharma, TRAI chairman, said that the cost of public data services could be kept as low as two paise per megabyte. Or scaling up, INR 2 for 100 MB and somewhere around INR 20 per GB of data. To put things in retrospect, that would put the cost of  availing public at well below the nationwide average of 20 paise — and even below Reliance Jio’s price of 5 paise per MB.

Sharma also said that the TRAI recommendations will be followed bu a proof-of-concept pilot project. Explaining TRAI’s reasoning behind the extremely affordable pricing plan to FactorDaily, he said that:

We propose to do a POC of this whole concept of registered WiFi hotspots. My view is that this will become like a public data office.

So basically, we used to have PCO’s used to place calls a few years ago — before the advent of smartphones. The public data offices are expected to play a similar role, only for availing data services. What;s more, you will first have to prove your identity, attach a payment medium and provide assurance that you can pay the provider — before being allowed to avail the services.

The first thing is to authenticate that you are you, the second thing is that you are authorised to attach a payment instrument. Basically, you should be able to pay, so the WiFi provider should have an assurance and should be able to charge you.

Once this is done, the user gets a notification whenever he is in the presence of one of these hotspots and can start using the data. There have been voices raised against the identity clause though, with the argument being that verification would create an unnecessary hurdle. It is also argued that it would also fail to curb wrongdoing as VPNs and proxies are easily available.

Meanwhile, the Indian government will still need to accept these recommendations, so there is no need to start counting our chickens before they hatch. The proposal is also very likely to face a bunch of legal hurdles from telecom regulators who even apart from the very competitive pricing, are not going to feel happy about the chance that public WiFi providers could set up shop without things like bidding for spectrum and paying a one time license fees.

There are already signs of trouble, personified in Telecom lobby group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which had threatened to take legal action if  if unlicensed players were brought in to handle the public WiFi hotspots. Understandable. Jio has already forced most telecos to bring their data and calling prices down. TRAI’s plan if implemented, could well force them to hit rock bottom.

TRAI’s recommendations come after months of intensive research over the Indian Internet landscape — that has shifted remarkably, following the introduction of Reliance Jio. Sharma appeared to be quite excited by the project and shared several other important points that could well form part of TRAI’s recommendations.

Essentially, the guy who’s providing the WiFi hotspot doesn’t have to do anything except providing that service. Keep it on and keep it connected to the backend and publish a SSID (Service Set Identifier). 

We could have rules that suppose I subscribe for (a prepaid data pack of) Rs 10 and I use only Rs 2, then Rs 8 should come back.

Yeah, I bet telecom operators would be just thrilled to hear about that. In fact, I can already see that lawsuit coming.

Meanwhile, the move if implemented could mean a huge push towards the government’s goal of a cashless and digital society. TRAI is debating over a pilot program and the possible venues however, nothing concrete was disclosed with regards to the location for the same.

Heads up Jio, you might just have someone to compete against soon.

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