The fight for net-neutrality has been a very interesting one in India. After month of active net-neutrality campaigns from Indian netizens and aggressive lobbying by corporate honchos, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India) has finally spoken and the verdict is in favour of unrestricted and equal internet access for all, at least in monetary terms.
Net-neutrality implies treating all data as equal. No one is permitted to offer a particular app or website for free like Airtel Zero and Facebook’s free basic intend to do, for it places careers in a dominant position to play god, thus putting small players and start-ups at a disadvantage.
TRAI has laid the ground rules for how Internet shall work in India. It will be a level playing field and “content agnostic” access to the internet is the operating principle. There will be no differential pricing. Any one violating net-neutrality would be fined 50,000 per day.
Service provider may reduce prices for particular services at times of great emergencies, but the same has to be reported to TRAI within 7 days. The ruling will be implement 6 months from now.
This is a big blow to Facebook’s Free basic program for which the company has already shelled out millions of dollars in promotional campaigns.
“Given that a majority of the population are yet to be connected to the Internet, allowing service providers to define the nature of access would be equivalent of letting TSPs shape the users’ internet experience,” TRAI said in its release.
Facebook responded with the following statement:
“Our goal with Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform. While disappointed with the outcome, we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings.”
This is what Mr. Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI had to say.
“The telecom industry is disappointed with TRAI’s decision to rule out differential pricing. COAI had approached the regulator with the reasons to allow price differentiation as the move would have taken us closer to connecting the one billion unconnected citizens of India. By opting to turn away from this opportunity, TRAI has ignored all the benefits of price differentiation that we had submitted as a part of the industry’s response to its consulting paper, including improving economic efficiency, increase in broadband penetration, reduction in customer costs and provision of essential services among other things. In our opinion, TRAI’s regulation on prohibiting differential pricing constitutes a welfare-reducing measure of high concern by blocking a possible avenue for our less-advantaged citizens to move to increased economic growth and prosperity by harnessing the power of the Internet. We believe that this measure will have an impact on the Government’s ambitious Digital India initiative.”
The fight for net-neutrality saw consumers, content creators, renowned start-ups and influential figures uniting for a very important cause against Telecom service provider. TRAI spent months contemplating and debating the issue, and categorically trashed the sham telecom providers and Facebook were selling sugarcoated in philanthropy with yesterdays ruling. India is a key market and this is a significant first win for net-neutrality. The battle continues.