Telecom regulator Trai on Monday prohibited discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content. The move is a big blow to Facebook’s highly-controversial ‘Free Basics’ platform and Airtel’s zero-rated platform ‘Airtel Zero’.
In an order, ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulation’, Trai said, “no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.”
The regulator further said that “no service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person… that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged to the consumer on the basis of content.”
An exemption has been made for emergency services, or at times of public emergency.
The telecom sector regulator has barred differential pricing of data products, implying that controversial zero-rated products such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero won’t be allowed to be offered in the country, marking a significant win for the proponents of net neutrality.
“No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on basis of content,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in a statement.
Trai said that no service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract,that has effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered on basis of content. This in effect disallows subsidised data packages that offer access to only a select services, such as Whatsapp or Twitter, packages which are currently offered by various telcos to attract subscribers.
However, the regulation will not apply to tariffs for data services over closed communication networks, unless tariffs offered evade prohibition of this regulation.
“Only exemption – tariffs may be reduced for accessing emergency services or at times of public emergency,” Trai said, adding that in such a case, tariff should be reported to Trai within seven working days from date of implementation of the order.
Trai added that a penalty of Rs 50,000 a day, capped at Rs 50 lakh, will be levied on service providers violating the rule and the authority may review these regulations after two years from the day the rules come into effect.
On January 1, Trai asked the company to alert its users to send revised responses to the questions on the consultation paper as a vote for Free Basics did not hold up as a valid response.