TRAIs new paper on Free data and why it is a trap

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.

The alternatives

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.

My take

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 not only allows internet behemoths but tsps via indirect ways can invest in such platforms and the scope of abuse is much 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
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.

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18 Comments on "TRAIs new paper on Free data and why it is a trap"


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Yash Pal
June 15, 2016 12:33 pm 12:33 PM
Thank you for taking time and sending us a possible draft reply to TRAI’s consultation paper. I was struggling to draft a reply but you have now indicated the direction. Please keep it up in future too even if you do not like my rant below. However, it appears that all the discussion is centred around users of cell phones who may subscribe to 2, 3, 4 G network. It appears that persons using wi – fi or fixed line modems are out castes in this discussion, though using the same internet and they will also be subject to the… Read more »
June 15, 2016 1:19 pm 1:19 PM

And if u can draft new answers based on the draft.the more the answers to TRAI,the better

June 15, 2016 1:16 pm 1:16 PM

Definitely will and please do share your views with TRAI.
Actually we are not concentrated on the technologies but price diff will affect all isps if allowed by the regulator.this is the start of a long drawn out battle which will wage on for quite.some time and each of us need to be attentive and carefu .not to miss it.
And all views are welcome…pro or against

Yash Pal
June 15, 2016 12:22 pm 12:22 PM

It appears that all the discussion is centred around users of cell phones who may subscribe to 2, 3, 4 G network. It appears that persons using wi – fi or fixed line modems are out castes, though using the same internet.

Jeen P N
June 15, 2016 11:40 am 11:40 AM
The models mentioned in the present consultation paper appear to violate or circumvent the principles of Differential Pricing for Data laid down in TRAI Regulation. Even if a platform is TSP agnostic, it can become a gatekeeper and allow discriminatory pricing for specific websites by making them free, or effectively free. It doesn’t matter whether a Net Neutrality violation in the form of discriminatory pricing is from a telecom operator, or from some other platform: it remains a net neutrality violation. Differential Pricing is discriminatory. Discriminatory pricing by giving free data shouldn’t be allowed via direct or reimbursement or methods,… Read more »
June 15, 2016 1:18 pm 1:18 PM tell the same to TRAI.