Putting his opinion of the free internet, the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) chief, R. S. Sharma, has recently said that he is open to the idea of internet content being provided free of cost or at discounted rates; just like toll-free phone help lines, as the regulator looks at ways to increase internet access.
Mr. Sharma said, since the data access has to be open to subscribers of all mobile operators the proposal is at a consultation stage does not violate net neutrality and is not in variance with TRAI’s February order prohibiting differential tariffs.
“We have no objection in general if someone decides to provide content free, or at a discounted rate, if the same is made available to subscribers of all mobile operators”, said the TRAI Chairman in his first comments on the matter after the regulator floated a consultation paper on the subject of free data earlier this month. The regulator is having a rethink on its landmark order on differential tariffs, as TRAI’s new consultation paper had led to fears among a certain section of net neutrality activists, which had led to the end of zero-rated platforms such as FaceBook’s `Free Basics’ and ` Airtel Zero’.
A service being labelled as a “walled garden” is ‘Free Basics’ from FaceBook provided access to only a few websites and was open to subscribers of Reliance Communications only. They are not compromising on any principle and through the new consultation; they want to implement a toll-free equivalent in the world of data. This could be for services such as health, governance, knowledge about government schemes, or any other type of data. The model is being explored and the only condition is that this should be unrestricted and without the involvement of telecom service providers.
“If there is a sale at a shop in Connaught Place, the deal should be open to everybody and not only to a select few, say only to those who enter from a particular road. Similarly, we are making a pitch for a telcoagnostic solution which will make the discounted or free content available to all subscribers and not restrict it to the users of only one mobile service”, said Sharma. He also said that this has no conflict with the order on discriminatory pricing.
Importantly, the internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago and the topics of free internet together with Net Neutrality been a topic of intense discussions and debates, pitting tech entrepreneurs against the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who deliver digital content to our computers and mobile devices. It is a welcome move that the TRAI chairman has expressed his views over the issue.