Net neutrality story echoes on TRAI’s Free Data paper


Several IT companies have expressed concerns over possible net neutrality violation due to regulator TRAI’s proposal to explore models to provide free data, while telecom operators have questioned the move.

Many individuals and some internet-based companies have, however, appreciated the proposal, forming part of a consultation paper, but want sufficient safeguards that the free data model does not violate the net neutrality principle.

TRAI has launched a consultation paper on exploring method to provide free data. The regulator, which is exploring a ‘toll free’ number like facility for accessing online platforms, received comments from 11 telecom operators including internet service providers, 25 companies and organisations, 14 individual who addressed questions raised in the paper and hundreds of one line comments from individuals.

The last date for comments on the consultation paper was June 30, while for counter comments is July 14. Internet-based companies like Hike Messenger, Times Internet, Medianama appreciated the move but with a caution that the final regulation should not violate principle of net neutrality.

Majority of individuals who responded to TRAI’s paper to frame rules for providing free internet service apprehended that attempt to create framework for free data may violate net neutrality principles.

Telecom industry bodies, COAI and AUSPI, submitted joint representation with objection and questioned Trai’s call for telecom network agnostic platform for providing free data and barring them from any kind of selective partnership with web platforms or mobile applications as they may act as a “gatekeeper”.

Telecom operators and some other individuals saw conflict in TRAI’s Free Data paper with its regulation that barred discriminatory pricing leading to ban onFacebook’s Free Basic type of platform in India.

“The innovative data services tariff plans introduced by the telecom service providers (TSP), reflected the very thought process that TRAI has mooted through this consultation paper on ‘Free Data’,” COAI and AUSPI said in their comments.

Bharti Airtel said that there is a myth that TSPs may act as a Gatekeeper and compromise the growth of some content providers or affect their level playing field. It added that telecom operators have invested in telecom infrastructure running in thousands of crores and they have more stakes in the growth of internet. “Thus, Indian telecom companies are committed to act as a gateway, as opposed to a gatekeeper, to Internet access,” said Airtel.

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