TRAI, India’s telecom regulator, has come out in support of the principle of Net Neutrality with its latest order which has prohibited any form of differential pricing based around content or access to some websites. TRAI’s full order can be accessed here.
TRAI’s order effectively bans platforms like Facebook’s Free Basics, zero-rating plans, and even special data packs that made access to one app like say WhatsApp or Wikipedia entirely free for users.
Here are the top reactions to the TRAI ruling on Net Neutrality:
Mark Zuckerberg says he is disappointed with ruling
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, a ‘disappointed’ Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Today India’s telecom regulator decided to restrict programs that provide free access to data. This restricts one of Internet.org’s initiatives, Free Basics, as well as programs by other organizations that provide free access to data. While we’re disappointed with today’s decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet.”
However the Facebook CEO vowed that the company will continue with its mission to bring more, and more people online.
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which is the telecom body
Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI said on the TRAI order, “COAI had approached the regulator with the reasons to allow price differentiation as the move would have taken us closer to connecting the one billion unconnected citizens of India. By opting to turn away from this opportunity, TRAI has ignored all the benefits of price differentiation that we had submitted as a part of the industry’s response to its consulting paper, including improving economic efficiency, increase in broadband penetration, reduction in customer costs and provision of essential services among other things.”
He said in the COAI’s opinion, TRAI’s regulation on prohibiting differential pricing constitutes a welfare-reducing measure by blocking a possible avenue for less-advantaged citizens to move to increased economic growth and prosperity by harnessing the power of the Internet.
“We believe that this measure will have an impact on the Government’s ambitious Digital India initiative,” his statement added.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)
IAMAI has welcomed the decision. In a statement issued by the body, the group noted that TRAI’s move will ensure that the basic tenets of Net Neutrality are followed in India. The association had taken a ‘no exception standpoint’ against differential pricing.
“This ruling vindicates the associations stand on the issue. The internet Start-up eco-system and the internet user community are delighted. IAMAI has also welcomed the move that the TRAI will be the ultimate authority to decide the cases of violations of this ruling and that the decision of the authority is final and binding,” said the group.
The statement added though that the association has a slight concern on the exception given to closed networks like Intranet, and how this entire thing will pan out. The association says that it hopes TSPs will not misuse the clause.
NASSCOM welcomed the TRAI announcement on differential pricing mandating that discriminatory tariffs are not allowed, and that TSPs or TSPs and their partners cannot offer discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider.
The body added that, “it is important to leverage this medium in extreme situations where there is need for rescue, support and critical information. We are grateful to the regulator for adopting a balanced approach, and their reposing faith in stakeholder consultations.”
R. Chandrashekhar, President, NASSCOM said, “Our submission highlighted the importance of net neutrality principles, non-discriminatory access and transparent business models aligned to the goal of enhancing internet penetration in the country. The TRAI announcement resounds with the submission made by NASSCOM and we would like to congratulate TRAI for enshrining the principles of net neutrality.”
Sanjeev Bhikchandani, Chairman, Internet Council said, “This announcement will help address apprehensions for young start-ups on lack of a level playing field. NASSCOM will continue to work with all stakeholders for a conducive regulatory environment that supports the growth of India’s start-up ecosystem.”
Government of India
Stating that Internet cannot be allowed to be monopoly of few, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar
Prasad said differential pricing modes are “plainly not acceptable”.
The minister said the TRAI’s order on differential pricing for data services has enhanced India’s image in the Net community world over and established its maturity.
“We are expanding digital India into nook and corner of the country, and taking extraordinary steps to empower the people through technology, to create a knowledge economy. The very concept of differential pricing on data, whether it is Free Basics or any other mode, is plainly not acceptable,” Prasad told PTI.
“The view of our government from the beginning has been very clear, which I have also articulated in Parliament, that is Internet is one of the finest creations of human mind and it should not become the monopoly of few,” Prasad said.