Telecom regulator Trai proposed exploring models to give consumers free Internet service within the Net neutrality framework, months after barring platforms like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero under its differential pricing rule.
“The consultation paper (on free data) is being issued to explore model(s) that could achieve benefits of offering free data while avoiding the ingenuity that the differential tariff regulation is meant to prevent,” the regulator said in the consultation paper.
The process opens up scope for those applications or platforms that promise to provide free data without the intention of ‘gate-keeping’ consumers on content access.
“We’re a little surprised that this is the consultation paper that has been released because it only concerns means of making data available for free. It appears to be a follow-up from the last consultation, and not what we were expecting,” the SavetheInternet volunteer Nikhil Pahwa said.
However, it might help bring a little more clarity to issues related to offering data for free, he added.
The regulator in February this year barred the platforms like Airtel Zero and Facebook’s Free Basics which offered content for free.
However, there are platforms that credit back data or money spent on accessing content.
In the first model, the regulator noted that “allowing service providers to perform what effectively amounts to a gate-keeping function, might potentially empower TSPs (telecom service providers) to select certain content providers at the disadvantage of others, thereby adversely affecting public interest and creating non-level playing field”.
In the second model of providing free data to all consumers, irrespective of the telecom network, “there is a need to enable smaller entrepreneurs to flourish without permitting gate-keeping function in the hands of TSPs and also to give consumers more choices for accessing the Internet”.
It has sought public views on if there is a need to have TSP-agnostic platform to provide free data or suitable reimbursement to users, without violating the principles of its differential pricing for data rules.
Trai is also examining whether platforms like Gigato, mCent, Ladoo, Taskbucks need to be regulated or market be allowed to develop these platforms.
The last date for comments for this paper is June 16 and that of counter-comments is June 30.
The regulator is now exploring the free data model that should use the principles of open, transparent and equal access to consumer services by all consumers and businesses.
“Trai believes that the proposed model should not hold back innovation and the opportunity to increase Internet penetration and usage,” Trai said.
It has proposed a few structures that provide free data but not bundled with a telecom network.
The watchdog has also favoured a reward-based model where platform or mobile apps may provide rewards in the form of a recharge for data or voice usage to users.
Nevertheless, it admitted that the list is not exhaustive as there may be a number of other possible solutions to provide free data or suitable reimbursement to users without violating the principles of differential pricing for data.
“The objective of this consultation is to explore such models and frame regulations to facilitate them,” Trai said.
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