TRAI warns of action beyond fine for discriminatory data rates

TRAI warns of action beyond fine for discriminatory data rates

TRAI warns of action beyond fine for discriminatory data rates
Having barred discriminatory pricing of data services, the regulator TRAI today warned of much stricter action against errant telecom operators if the existing penalty provision fails to tame them. "It's not like that, that you can violate and continue paying penalty," Trai chairman R S Sharma told PTI in an interview.

Becoming the first telecom regulator globally to ban zero rating plans like Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) yesterday backed net neutrality while issuing a new set of norms barring discriminatory prices for data services. It also provides for Rs 50,000 per day penalty on violating operators.

When asked if penalty fails to deter operators from complying with its regulations, the regulator said, "The contraventions are provided for. Then their is general kind of clause which says that if you contravene then there are other provisions that come into play. They may not be part of this regulation.

"There are overall provisions which cover what happens if you contravene with any regulation of Trai then there are other mechanism which are put in to place."

Some experts have expressed concerns that operators may pay the penalty and continue with business plans that may be in violation to Trai's latest regulation.

Trai provided for a penalty of Rs 50,000 for each day on service providers if they flout the order. The penalty would be subject to a maximum of Rs 50 lakh.

"It's not like that, that you can violate and continue paying penalty. Once any tariff plan is announced that plan has to submitted to Trai... we will see if it is contravention to the rules and then we will impose penalty," Sharma said.

He, however, said that no penalty will be imposed unless Trai serves notice to a company and that company gets a chance to present its case.

Sharma said that operators can charge different rates at different time occasionally to better utilise their network but cannot charge different rates based on the content that they access using Internet.

"It may not be exact analogy but let me try to explain. If you are going on an expressway, the toll service provider should be only concerned about toll and not ask where I am going. These are the principles which we are saying you cannot charge differently based on content," he said.

Sharma said that the regulation covers net neutrality only on tariff aspect and other components of this principle like throttling of Internet speed have not been addressed under it.

"Net neutrality as we understand constitutes number of components which are not purely tariff. We were dealing with some aspect of net neutrality from the tariff perspective. That's what we have come out with because it is in our domain. There are many areas which are not in the domain of Trai," Sharma said.

When asked about legitimacy of sponsored data, Sharma said, "It will not be appropriate for me to give you answer in very clear terms. One will have to look into details of it.

"As you know devil lies in the details. What exactly is the methodology and whether that methodology comes within scope of regulation. That has to be seen."

Trai regulations is the first ever framework in the country on net-neutrality. This is the first consultation paper from Trai which has received maximum comments -- around 24 lakh while social network behemoth Facebook claims that the number of comments in support of Free Basics to be more than 1.35 crore as against Trai's official figure of around 24 lakh.

The regulations have been welcomed by citizens, ruling party the BJP and opposition parties including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal.

India has become the first major economy to take such action although a few like the Netherlands and Chile have also barred differential data pricing. The US has adopted regulations which give approval to zero-rating plans on a case-to-case basis.