TRAI backs ‘net neutrality’; Big setback to Facebook

internetIn a boost to the campaign for net neutrality and a blow to social network giant Facebook and other operators offering differential data tariffs, telecom regulator TRAI on Monday came up with an order barring the social network and internet operators from charging discriminatory prices for web access.

In a far reaching recommendation, TRAI also provided for a penalty of Rs 50,000 for each day on service providers if they flout the order. This penalty would be subject to a maximum of Rs 50 lakh.

“No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman RS Sharma said unveiling the details of the regulations.

The rule, in effect from Monday afternoon, is titled ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’.

The new rules come amid a long-running debate on net neutrality wherein Facebook has been facing flak for its ‘Free Basics’ platform, while operators like Airtel have been at the receiving end for similar plans announced earlier.

The TRAI order is especially seen as a setback to Facebook which had plans to roll out Free Basics, providing access to a limited set of websites for free. This was seen as undermining the equal-access precepts of net neutrality.

“Anything on Internet cannot be differently priced. This is the broad point that we have highlighted in regulation,” Sharma said.

Plans which are active in contravention of the new regulations should cease to exist in 6 months, he said, adding that the new regulations have been notified in Gazette and are effective from today. However, service providers have been allowed to reduce tariff for access in case of providing emergency services.

“We have not defined emergency services. But in case of such services, operators have to inform Trai within 7 working days,” TRAI Chairman said.

(With inputs from the PTI)