The Telecom Regulator TRAI’s latest consultation on Free Data has drawn flak from not only India’s top Telecom Operators but also from supporters of the controversial ‘Net Neutrality’ regulation in the country. Industry body COAI and AUSPI submitted that the Free Data paper would be in violation of TRAI’s own discriminatory data pricing regulation.

The industry bodies, represented by telcos like Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone & RCom, have questioned TRAI’s rationale, citing that the arguments raised by the regulator in its regulation banning discriminatory data pricing would be equally applicable in case of a TSP agnostic platform. It also opined that licensed entities being placed on a lower footing than unlicensed entities.

Top telco Bharti Airtel voiced its concerns over TSPs being kept out from operating the same business model as is being contemplated for content providers by the regulator. The telco also vouched for its own toll-free platform ‘Airtel Zero’, which has been barred by TRAI, suggesting that the platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on a non-discriminatory basis. Idea Cellular, too, expressed concerns over TRAI’s consultation paper saying that it impinges on a TSP’s right to do business.

The telco opined that TRAI’s consultation paper on Free Data is a contradiction to its own regulation on Differential Pricing. The telco submitted that “It is better to allow market forces to grow data business rather than muddy the waters with Dos & Don'ts.” Vodafone is also on the same page.

The telco raised objections on allowing TSP agnostic platforms to offer free data, while disallowing telcos. Not only telecom operators, submissions by prominent Internet Activists also shared the same concern. Internet Freedom Foundation, that includes members of Save the internet forum, said there is no need to have TSP agnostic platform to provide free data.

Internet Democracy Project, a Delhi based civil society initiative that works for an Open Internet also submitted that “making platforms TSP agnostic does not ensure that non-discrimination is ensured or anti-competitive harms are eliminated, and therefore this cannot be the decisive criterion around which to decide the desirability of business models.” TRAI's in its consultation paper on Free Data sought view from stakeholders about TSP agnostic platforms offering free data without violating principles of differential pricing. TRAI had suggested 3 models to provide free data to consumers and sought view on whether such models should be regulated or market be allowed to develop such platforms.

The regulator has suggested a toll free platform for users where browsing would be free, another model where consumers would pay upfront and subsequently get reimbursed and a third model where applications reward users with incentives such as recharge for data/voice usage. Apps that currently provide such rewards to consumers for using its content are mCent, Gigato, EarnTalkTime, to name a few. The last day of submitting comments on TRAI's consultation paper on Free Data was 30th June. Counter comments have been invited till 14th July. - Money Control

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