The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Monday issued regulations prohibiting differential pricing, in a ruling titled 'Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016'.
The move ends the debate around the legality of differential pricing, at least for now.
In a press release, the regulator stated that the regulations “disallow service providers to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a consumer”.
The announcement comes on the back of a sustained high-stakes battle being waged between social networking giant, Facebook and Net Neutrality activists in India. The company’s Free Basics service, which was under attack by activists for creating a ‘walled garden’ for users, could arguably be the most important victim of the ruling. But it is by no means alone. The ruling prevents all service providers, including telecom companies, from discriminating between content.
In the ruling, the regulator mandated (full text):
a) No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
b) No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
c) Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
d) Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified.
“While formulating the Regulations, the Authority has largely been guided by the principles of Net Neutrality seeking to ensure that consumers get unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet,” TRAI said.
According to media reports, the regulator also specified that violators would be fined an amount of Rs 50,000 per day, subject to a maximum of Rs 50 lakh. Although the implications of the ruling will play out in the coming days, it is clear that TRAI has broken new ground on the subject of Net Neutrality in India.