India’s telecoms regulator, TRAI, ruled against differential data pricing following a national debate and furious lobbying by supporters and opponents of Facebook’s Free Basics’ zero rating service.
The verdict was greeted with enthusiasm by net neutrality supporters but leaves doubt hanging over Facebook’s internet.org strategy in India, at least in its current form.
Free Basics is a product of the internet.org initiative which offers users free access to a range of data services, including the social network.
“Taking into account responses in the consultation, relevant international experience, expert opinion, research studies and all other inputs, the authority has concluded that a clear rule should be formulated – the practice of offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for data services based on content, is to be prohibited,” said the regulator’s ruling.
The ruling, which does not name Facebook or any other provider specifically, will also impact Bharti Airtel’s Airtel Zero sponsored data service.
TRAI’s thinking was revealed in one section of its ruling where it lays out its philosophy. A provider which is offering data services to the consumer does not control the internet infrastructure in its entirety, points out the regulator. In fact, it is dependent on several other networks.
Thus, allowing a provider which is at one edge of the internet to charge differentially for data that it does not alone process, could compromise the entire architecture of the internet itself, argues the ruling.
“Allowing price differentiation based on the type of content being accessed on the internet would militate against the very basis on which the internet has developed and transformed the way we connect with one another,” said TRAI.