TRAI says no to Facebook’s Free Basics

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FreeBasicsNEW DELHI- Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put to rest the differential pricing debate as it said on Monday that no company can charge subscribers different prices for access to different type of content.

TRAI’s ruling is a blow to Airtel Zero and Facebook’s Free Basics platform.

The regulator, which warned the operators that they cannot enter into any arrangement based on discriminatory pricing, also said that operators will be fined between Rs. 50,000-50 lakh if the ruling is violated. “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,” TRAI said in a statement.

Later, the watchdog held an open house discussion on differential pricing at the PHD Chamber of Commerce in New Delhi after stakeholders and individuals had submitted their comments about differential pricing and its effects on net neutrality. In their comments, the telecom operators and Facebook had sent replies in favor of differential pricing with interests in providing free but regulated internet plans (like Airtel Zero or Facebook’s Free Basics) to the customers.

Before the open house discussion, TRAI had asked Reliance Communications to put a hold on Free Basics (previously Internet.org) till the time the final guidelines were laid out due to a raging controversy on net neutrality. To which Facebook retaliated by asking its users to send in responses to TRAI, favouring Free Basics.Once all the responses were in, TRAI questioned Facebook’s methods which resulted in a series of exchanges made public by TRAI.

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