New Delhi: Amid a debate over zero-rating plans and telecom companies offering discounted tariffs for accessing certain websites, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday came out with a consultation paper seeking comments on whether such differential pricing should be allowed.
If yes, the sectoral regulator asked what steps should be taken to ensure principles of non-discrimination, transparency, affordable internet access, competition, market entry and innovation are adhered to.
Telecom regulator TRAI said some plans introduced in the recent past amount to differential tariff plans that offer zero or discounted tariffs to certain content of select websites or applications or platforms.
According to a TRAI official, some of the operators are offering plans where they give discounted tariffs to access certain applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and the like, and there are certain platforms that allow access to certain websites free of cost.
Airtel Zero is an open marketing platform that allows customers to access a variety of mobile applications for free, with data charges being paid by start-ups and large firms. Similarly, Facebook’s Internet.org allows access to certain websites without mobile data charges.
TRAI said the objective of offering such schemes is claimed to be the desire of various service, content or platform providers to enable users, especially the poor, to access certain content on the internet free of charge.
“There are a number of variations of these plans. Under one design, an entity creates a platform in which content providers and TSPs can register. Subject to the approval of the platform provider, customers of TSPs, registered on the platform, will be able to access those websites (either in full or only certain content of those websites) which are listed on this platform,” the regulator said.
Another method, it said, is to provide discounted data offers by telecom service providers (TSPs) for some identified websites or apps.
“The net result of these offers is it empowers the TSPs to select certain content providers (either through the platforms or directly) and offer discounted access plans to these websites/applications/platforms,” TRAI said.
The stakeholders can send back their comments on the consultation paper by December 30 and counter comments by January 7.
The regulator said it may be argued that while these preferential tariff offers effectively result in easy access to these websites, it may also make the entry of certain websites through the network of the TSPs more difficult.
“For example, a TSP or a group of TSPs could come up with such differentiated tariff offers wherein they disincentivise access to certain websites by putting higher tariffs for accessing them,” it said.