Following up on its previous consultation TRAI has come up with a paper on free data. Though nothing is wrong with this approach but the devil lies in some of the options espoused by TRAI in the paper to achieve this.
The two options among them that i am referring to is:-
1.Toll free model
2.Tsp agnostic platform model
You can read this paper here
TRAI explains the toll free option in the paper as
In this model, the TSP does not act as a gatekeeper and plays a passive role. The platform owner has a business interest to allow any and every content provider making the model neutral. This model will work for mobile subscribers who have zero-balance as the subscribers are not being charged so they don’t need balance vs. a reward model that requires an action before the reward thereby.
Cons of this approach
The toll free model is something we have already heard before from the telcos at the peak of the net neutrality debate last year.TRAIs intentions on this front are very unclear and doesnt mention as to what they mean by a business which has an interest to allow every content.
Also it doesn’t clarify on the fact as to what happens if the so called business doesnt have an interest and hand picks sites?Will it then be considered as being in violation of its previous order on diff pricing.This is the most crucial aspect as TRAI considers only the tsp side of price differentiation and forgets the content side of it unlike the DOT(Department of telecom) paper on the same which had suggested the following
The Committee, therefore, is of the firm opinion that content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value, even if it is for an ostensible public purpose. Collaborations between TSPs and content providers that enable such gatekeeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged.
This view of TRAI is flawed as any content provider ahem free basics then doesn’t fall foul of this regulation becuase if it is available with every telecom provider then according to TRAI it cannot be considered as diff pricing.This concern is valid as TRAI chairman himself has said that his problem with free basics was not about handpicking sites and behaving like a gatekeeper but that it was only available to subscribers of a particular phone company.this idea is totally flawed.
This takes me to the next option
2. TSP agnostic platform
This in itself defines or shows TRAIs understanding of the price diff aspect. Differential pricing of content on internet is bad whether it be a TSP or even a content provider or any business that acts as a gatekeeper to it.
TRAI compares this platform to LPG subsidy framework and says the following in its paper
The direct money transfer approach could be similar to the subsidy payment, for the domestic LPG connections, wherein the user pays for the connection like any other normal connection, and then the Oil Company/Government pays the subsidy directly into his/her bank account. This model, deployed through a TSP agnostic platform, offers similar benefits as the first two models. However, just like in Toll Free Model, the Platform owner not only measure the real time data consumption but also the tariff that is being applied to each individual user and reimburse/recharge actual amount incurred by the user in the form of a recharge for data usage or for voice usage to the user
This option doesn’t mention if the platform provides access to the whole of the internet.
However what it does mention is that the usage will be tracked in real time and this would be used to reimburse the value of data consumed.This means it allows the platform to sniff your packets and decide where you are going which is again a violation of privacy..Also here too a new gatekeeper is getting created.
However if here the platform gives access to the whole of the internet then it should definitely be allowed.
Trai has been time and again given the alternatives.
1.The “Direct benefit transfer” aspect can be handled in a way that some fixed amount of data is given to the consumer as free per month or year on all networks without creating a new gatekeeper.
2.The data reimbursement offer for visiting certain apps or downloading them is also fine.
3.The google WiFi like projects are one of the other examples.
The options and the thinking in TRAI that tsp driven price diff is more dangerous than content creators driven price diff is totally flawed and sets back its own Feb order on diff pricing.it not only allows internet behemoths but tsps via indirect ways can invest in such platforms and the scope of abuse is much more.at the end of the day this doesn’t create more access but instead it creates many sub standard Internet’s and will hamper the reach of everybody including the poor to the vast world of internet and also place Indian business at the mercy of content creator platforms who will then act as the new gatekeepers and also opens up a new loophole for abuse.
The last date for comments to this paper is 16th June and you can send your comments to the regulator by logging into https://www.savetheinternet.in/
By: Sandeep Pillai I am a software developer and reside in kerala and keenly following the net neutrality argument since it’s inception in the US. Disclaimer: I am a volunteer with save the internet.