TRAI lays down order protecting Net neutrality
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