Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has finally given its verdict on Facebook’s Free Basics platform. It issued the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’  which said that no company can charge subscribers with discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.

The regulation says that:

  • No service provider can offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content
  • No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal that the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation
  • Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of public emergency has been permitted
  • Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified
  • TRAI may review these regulations after a period of two years
  • TRAI will also levy a penalty of INR 50,000 a day if discriminatory tariffs are charged by service providers

Over the past few months, Facebook resorted to various methods of asking users to vote and advertising campaigns to save Free Basics. In an effort to get people’s support, its Free Basics program Facebook has spent over INR 300 Cr.

The regulatory body had also issued two consultation papers prior to this. One was issued in December 2015 which was about differential data pricing, and the other one was in early 2015 about the over-the-top (OTT) services. The consultation paper on differential data pricing had raised concern over zero-rating tariff models, a practice wherein service providers offer free data to users for select applications and websites, and the paper had become key to the debate on Net neutrality. It is to be noted that like NASSCOM was in support of differential pricing, TRAI has also asked Reliance Communications to put a hold on the commercial launch of Facebook’s Free Basics till the authority considers all the details and terms and conditions of the service.


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