TRAI lays down or­der pro­tect­ing Net neu­tral­ity

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The Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of In­dia (TRAI) has laid down rules that bar oper­a­tors from charg­ing dif­fer­ent rates for In­ter­net ac­cess based on con­tent, ef­fec­tively ban­ning zero-rat­ing ini­tia­tives such as Face­book’s Free Ba­sics and Air­tel’s Air­tel Zero pro­gramme. The tele­com reg­u­la­tor has given six months to oper­a­tors to wind down ex­ist­ing dif­fer­en­tial pric­ing ser­vices.

“No ser­vice provider shall of­fer or charge dis­crim­i­na­tory tar­iffs for data ser­vices on the ba­sis of con­tent. Fur­ther, no ser­vice provider shall en­ter into any ar­range­ment, agree­ment… that has the ef­fect of dis­crim­i­na­tory tar­iffs for data ser­vices be­ing of­fered or charged to the con­sumer on the ba­sis of con­tent,” the reg­u­la­tor said in a state­ment.

By defin­ing both meth­ods of dif­fer­en­tial pric­ing, the reg­u­la­tor now pro­hibits tele­com com­pa­nies from zero-rat­ing data to gain more cus­tomers (Free Ba­sics) or charg­ing an ex­ploita­tive price to have ser­vices be zero-rated on their net­work (Air­tel Zero). While Free Ba­sics and Air­tel Zero have sparked the most con­tro­versy and been the fo­cus of much me­dia at­ten­tion in re­cent times, where cus­tomers will be hit the hard­est in the short run is that th­ese reg­u­la­tions will also pro­hibit the ‘free Face­book/What­sApp’ data pack­ages that con­sumers use in or­der to avoid hefty data charges.

In ad­di­tion to lay­ing down spe­cific rules against the dis­crim­i­na­tory pric­ing of data, TRAI also in­cludes an en­force­ment clause in the ‘Pro­hi­bi­tion of Dis­crim­i­na­tory Tar­iffs for Data Ser­vices Reg­u­la­tions, 2016’.

“A ser­vice provider in con­tra­ven­tion of th­ese reg­u­la­tions, the Au­thor­ity may, with­out prej­u­dice… di­rect the ser­vice provider to pay an amount of Rs 50,000 for each day of con­tra­ven­tion, sub­ject to a max­i­mum of Rs 50 lakh,” the reg­u­la­tor has laid down.

At the same time, the reg­u­la­tor has out­lined spe­cific ex­emp­tion cases. One of the ma­jor ex­emp­tions to dis­crim­i­na­tory pric­ing of data is emer­gency ser­vices. TRAI puts it thus: “A ser­vice provider may re­duce tar­iff for ac­cess­ing or pro­vid­ing emer­gency ser­vices, or at times of grave pub­lic emer­gency.” While some ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples in­clude ser­vices in the field of health and law and or­der, other less ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples in­clude cities that are af­fected by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. As TRAI Chair­man RS Sharma pointed out, dur­ing the Chen­nai floods cer­tain com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices such as What­sApp could be tem­po­rar­ily zero-rated in or­der to en­sure that com­mu­ni­ca­tion was up and run­ning.

It may be noted that the de­bate on Net neu­tral­ity started af­ter Air­tel de­cided to charge sep­a­rately for In­ter­net-based calls in De­cem­ber 2014, but with­drew it later af­ter protests. The de­bate heated up af­ter Air­tel launched free In­ter­net plat­form Air­tel Zero and later Face­book came out with its In­ter­net.Org, re­named as Free Ba­sics.

Snapdeal fined Rs 10,000 for not hon­our­ing Rs 68 iPhone 5S Deal

On­line shop­ping plat­form Snapdeal has been fined a sum of Rs 10,000 by the San­grur District Con­sumer Dis­putes Re­dres­sal Com­mis­sion for re­fus­ing to de­liver an Ap­ple iPhone 5S (16 GB) in a gold variant for Rs 68 as it had ap­peared on the web­site. The com­pany never de­liv­ered the de­vice, be­liev­ing the er­ror to be a ‘tech­ni­cal glitch’. The cost of the iPhone 5S on Snapdeal was Rs 28,999 but had shown a 99.7 per cent dis­count. Nikhil Bansal, a B.Tech stu­dent from San­grur, spot­ted the dis­count and quickly or­dered it.

Af­ter send­ing many mails to Snapdeal which went unan­swered, he ap­proached the Con­sumer Dis­putes Re­dres­sal Com­mis­sion in San­grur, Pun­jab. Bansal ap­par­ently had cap­tured screen­shots of the prod­uct page and pro­duced them as dig­i­tal ev­i­dence in­clud­ing or­der num­ber with date and time.

The court or­dered Snapdeal to sell the iPhone 5S for Rs 68 and even slapped a Rs 2,000 penalty on

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