TRAI, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, has floated a new paper listed on its website, questioning differential data pricing for content services, although the paper does not specifically mention the term Net Neutrality.
TRAI’s consultation paper titled, “Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing for Data Services,” raises concerns over zero-rating platforms being offering by TSPs in particular. The paper asks for comments on whether such differential pricing should be allowed. Stakeholders are expected to post their comments for the paper by December 30 and counter-comments are to be submitted by January 7.
TRAI’s new paper is looking at whether allowing zero-rating platforms can lead to discrimination in the market. According to Net Neutrality activists, such zero-rating platforms are in violation of the guiding principle of how the Internet should function.
The TRAI paper notes, “The objective of offering such schemes is claimed to be the desire of various service providers/content providers or platform providers to enable people of this country especially the poor to access certain content on the internet free of charge. There are a number of variations of these plans.”
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It goes on to read, “The net result of these offers is that it empowers/enables the TSPs to select certain content providers (either through the platforms or directly) and offer discounted access plans to these websites/applications/platforms.”
The paper says that while it might give easy access to the websites on the zero-rating platform, “it may also result in making the entry of certain websites through the pipes of the TSPs more difficult.”
The TRAI paper says that TSPs could even “disincentivize access to certain websites by putting higher tariffs.” According to the regulator, allowing TSPs to give differential tariffs for certain websites/content providers, means that one is accepting the principle that these very TSPs can also make put “prohibitive” tariffs for other websites, thus restricting Internet access.
TRAI accepts that zero-rating might help accelerate the rate of Internet access in the country, but there are several negative effects that might ensue and that these plans may go against the principle of non-discriminatory tariff.
The regulator says that such tariffs put small content providers at a disadvantage and “creates entry barriers and non-level playing field for these players stifling innovation.” These are arguments that Net Neutrality activists have also put against zero-rating platforms by TSPs.
TRAI’s paper says that “the tariff offerings have to be studied from the perspective of whether it promotes or harms competition.”
It raises the concerns that such discriminatory pricing may even lead to TSPs promoting their own “websites/apps/services platforms by giving lower rates for accessing them.” The paper also gives suggestions as to how such practices can be curbed and says that if free Internet access is ‘delinked’ from specific content, then it would be better.
In the end the paper puts forth 4 questions. These are as follows:
Should the TSPs be allowed to have differential pricing for data usage for accessing different websites, applications or platforms?
If differential pricing for data usage is permitted, what measures should be adopted to ensure that the principles of nondiscrimination, transparency, affordable internet access, competition and market entry and innovation are addressed?
Are there alternative methods/technologies/business models, other than differentiated tariff plans, available to achieve the objective of providing free internet access to the consumers? If yes, please suggest/describe these methods/technologies/business models. Also, describe the potential benefits and disadvantages associated with such methods/technologies/business models?
Is there any other issue that should be considered in the present consultation on differential pricing for data services?
The full paper can be access here.