After face-off with Facebook, TRAI says data pricing norms by Jan-end

A day after its war with Facebook over the issue of Free Basics came out in the open, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Thursday said its norms on the issue of differential pricing of data will be firmed up by January-end.

Telecom operators have favoured differential pricing for data services while net neutrality activists continue to oppose any differential pricing regime, saying it would amount to curbs on freedom of choice to access the Internet. Net neutrality implies that equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic.

Telcos, consumer groups and the regulator put forward their arguments on differential pricing during an open house session on Thursday. Operators pointed out the investment cost of `7,50,000 crore required to set up infrastructure, which carries the internet.

“A discussion on differential pricing on data services before the fate of Internet usage has no relevance to consumers,” said Anil Kumar, founder, Telecom Watchdog, a consumer group.

Representatives of digital content providers, including Star India and Sony pictures said: “We see this as a backdoor entry by telecom operators, where with the help of spectrum, they are deciding the functioning of the market.”

“Minimalistic intervention in tariff fixation with forbearance as in voice will help boost the growth of Internet,” said Ravi Gandhi from the regulatory team of Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom firm by subscriber base.

An Idea Cellular executive also echoed a similar view. “Differential pricing is necessary for data,” said Rahul from the company’s regulatory team.

Industry chambers CII and FICCI opposed differential pricing.

“TRAI went ahead with forbearance in voice because the tariff fixed were high than what the market could offer. We should not regulate in advance. There is no tangible evidence that differential pricing has harmed consumers,” said Mahesh Uppal, founder-director of ComsFirst.

Free Basics is an app which allows people who cannot afford the Internet to access selected websites for free via a mobile phone. TRAI on Monday attacked Facebook over an aggressive campaign to drum up support for Free Basics after being deluged with millions of comments asking it not to ban the service.

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