No Basic Free-Dom for Facebook as India’s TRAI Votes for Net Neutrality
In a landmark ruling that is expected to have a global impact, India’s telecom regulatory authority, TRAI, has finally sided with Net Neutrality and has banned differential pricing for digital content, and this would also mean a strong blow to the Facebook’s Free Basics scheme that the company had spent a huge fortune on advertising in the country.
This new framework emphasize on how Internet should be made available at the same price across all the devices and it further also announces that the defaulters would be fined Rs 50,000 ($735) per day, thus siding with the one content one price concept. The regulatory authority has released the findings titled “Prohibition of discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016” and it establishes some strict ground rules on how telcos can’t exploit users by setting up differential pricing for individual services, thus defying the very gist of the Open Internet. Here are the rules/guidelines chalked out by the authorities,
No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data service based on the content. Simply put together, it means that Telcos can no longer offer separate data packs for services like WhatsApp, YouTube or Facebook. Internet.org/Free basics is yet another service that was meant to exploit the absence of these particular regulations.
Service providers are limited to providing direct service to the customers and would not enter into an agreement or contract allowing for discriminatory tariffs for data services. However, the guidelines do permit the reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services. As we talked about it earlier, the financial penalties for the same have also been announced.
TRAI had issued for the Consultation Pricing for the Data Services on 9th of December 2015 and it had kept the forum open for written comments and counter comments for the stakeholders till 14th of January 2016. The guidelines will further ensure that the data services are content agnostic and Internet will still be a level playing ground for businesses.
The Net Neutrality moment hogged the limelight in late 2014 when Airtel announced that it would be enforcing the Over the top charges for the messaging services like WhatsApp and this charge will be collected over and above the usual data usage bill. Airtel was one of the first few players to offer the VOIP plans but the things took an ugly turn when Internet.org was re-branded as Free Basics and was being promoted aggressively by Facebook.
This is not the first time Facebook’s Internet.org was found to be on the wrong side of the law, but India being a major stakeholder, this ruling takes a global relevance and sets a precedence across the world.
The fight for Net Neutrality was one of its kind with many Indian Netizens raising their voice against the violation of the same and starting a movement under SaveTheInternet.in to make people aware of what actually Net neutrality is. The guidelines outlined today will be the first legal framework related to net neutrality in India and is expected to protect the interest of people and businesses alike.