TRAI has now recommended that rural subscribers be given 100 MB free data per month to encourage data usage in the rural areas. It also recommended that the cost of implementation be met from the USOF.
After the fierce debate early this year about Facebook’s Free Basics, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) notified the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations’ effectively prohibiting free basics kind of offerings in the country. TRAI has now come up with a set of recommendations to encourage data usage in the rural areas by providing free data to subscribers.
Poor Rural Coverage
The TRAI report notes that there are 367.48 million internet subscribers in the country as of 30th September, 2016. TRAI also makes a mention of India’s dismal rankings as per the State of the Broadband report 2016. India has been ranked 132nd for fixed broadband penetration out of the 187 countries ranked and has been ranked 156th in wireless broadband penetration out of 179 countries ranked. India also ranks below countries like Vietnam & Sri Lanka in terms of fixed broadband penetration. India’s fixed broadband penetration of 7% is way below the global average of 46%. The Rural-Urban divide is also clearly visible in the country with only 32.6% of the internet subscribers from rural areas while the rural share in the number of mobile connections 42.48%.
What did TRAI recommend?
TRAI made multiple recommendations to encourage data use in the rural areas. The recommendations are broadly in the areas of encouraging both the government and other entities bear the cost of free data. The following are some of the major recommendations.
- Government should formulate a scheme under which a reasonable amount of data say 100 MB per month may be made available to rural subscribers for free. The cost of implementation of the scheme may be met from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). It has to be noted that 60% of the USOF is still unspent.
- TRAI recommended that there is a need to introduce a third party aggregator platforms to facilitate schemes through which free data can be provided. The idea is to make it Telecom Service Provider (TSP) agnostic and non-discriminatory in implementation. It could also increase the participation of various entities who wish to incentivize free data through these platforms.
- TRAI also recommended that the free data scheme must be TSP-agnostic, must not involve any arrangement between the TSP and the aggregator/content provider and should not be designed to circumvent the TRAI orders on discriminatory tariffs.
- TRAI also recommended that the following mechanism be adopted for any such aggregators
- The Aggregators will need to register with Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
- The registrant must be a company registered under Indian Companies Act.
- The validity of registration shall be 5 years.
- The registrant shall not either directly or indirectly, assign or transfer the Registration in any manner whatsoever to a third party