Telecom regulator TRAI is expected to release its recommendations on free data services this week, in the wake of its ban on free Internet platforms like Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero. "We expect to issue recommendation on free data service by end of this week," TRAI Chairman RS Sharma said.
TRAI floated proposals in May to explore models for providing free Internet services to consumers within the Net neutrality framework, months after barring platforms like Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero under its differential pricing rule. The regulator, which is exploring a 'toll free' number like facility for accessing online platforms, received comments from 11 telcos and Internet service providers, 25 companies and organisations, 14 individuals who addressed questions raised in the paper and hundreds of online comments from individuals on the proposal.
Internet-based companies like Hike Messenger, Times Internet, Medianama appreciated the move but with a caution that the final regulation should not violate principle of Net neutrality. A majority of individuals who responded to TRAI's paper to frame rules for providing free Internet service were apprehensive that attempts to create a framework for free data may violate Net neutrality principles.
Sharma said that the consultation paper on Net neutrality will also be issued within a fortnight. TRAI had floated a pre-consultation paper on Net neutrality in May seeking to put in place an overall framework for Internet usage in the country. There has been a conflict between telecom operators, Internet companies and consumers interest on the issue of Net neutrality.
While all the three major stakeholders - telcos, Internet companies and consumers - favour Net neutrality, they define it differently from their standpoint. TRAI has partially addressed the issue of Net neutrality like differential pricing and, through a separate consultation paper, is in process of exploring model for providing free Internet within framework of Net neutrality.
TRAI has sought views on approach that "India's policy and/or regulatory approach" should take in dealing with issues relating to net neutrality. The debate on Net neutrality picked up in India when telecom operator Bharti Airtel in December 2014 decided to charge extra for making Internet calls.
However, the company rolled back its plan after a huge public protest. It then launched Airtel Zero platform which provided fee access to websites under it while websites were required to pay for being on it.