You would be aware that TRAI has released a spate of consultation papers, and most of them impact our membership. While responses for some of them are still under development, we have already shared our PoV on Free data, a paper that had questions on whether Telecom Service provider (TSP) agnostic platforms should be allowed to offer free data and under what conditions. We had a lively time reconciling diverse, in fact conflicting, views from stakeholders.
In our response to TRAI, we have articulated the guiding principles to allow for free data without violating the principles of net neutrality, that is summarized as follows. Our response, as well as the consultation paper, is attached for your reference. You may find it an interesting read, especially since the response is very short, in comparison to some of our previous submissions. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
- The purpose of free data or concessions on data usage as rewards is to encourage users to explore the internet. This is expected to have a positive impact on Internet access and usage by the populace at large.
- Net Neutrality is a universal concept (recently upheld by US courts as well as other nations in the past) where TSPs, as access providers, have no power to influence consumer choice relating to services, applications, content that a consumer accesses. Therefore, TSPs should not have any direct or indirect influence on the content that customers view on the internet.
- There should be no stipulations on how the data reward can be used e.g. data recharge that will allows access to only specific websites or data recharge that can be used to download specific apps only should not be permitted.
- When the reward is directly sponsored by the concerned website/app but accessed through an Internet platform, the latter should merely enable the process for conveying the reward, and should not be involved in deciding the ‘what’ and ‘how much’ of the reward scheme. The app/website should have complete flexibility in arriving at the terms and conditions of the reward program that can be enabled by the platform / TSP.
- When the reward is given by the platform and not by the individual website, it should not have any conditions attached that translate into discrimination between websites/ apps or have any conditions as to which websites/ apps may be accessed, either implicitly or explicitly, including stipulations regarding technology or content.
- For users without a data plan, toll-free access by an Internet platform/ TSP can lead to a walled garden. Therefore, there is a need to insist on data rewards that are over and above the cost of such access and which affords unrestricted access to the Internet in some meaningful proportion to the toll-free access itself and outside of such toll-free access.
- For instances pertaining to emergency and essential citizen services, Government may mandate/permit toll-free access (similar to toll-free numbers), that may not be triggered by specific user action of downloads etc. and should be offered by all TSPs. This further will require TRAI approval as per Feb 2016 order of the TRAI