Net neutrality is a tricky beast. The informal principle is usually applied to the idea of data providers charging more for specific services, but it can also extend to telecoms giving away specific services (and, by extension, charging more for everything else). That's the attitude of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, known locally as "Trai," expressed in a statement today. The regulator says that it will not allow any service provider to "offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on basis of content," more or less aligning India's wireless and landline data industry with the principles of net neutrality.
The ruling will take effect six months from now, after which carriers and other telecommunications providers will be charged 50,000 rupees per day (capped at 50 million rupees, about three quarters of a million US dollars) for violating the policy. Notably, the new rules will outlaw things like Facebook Free Basics, a branded proprietary service that offers free low-bandwidth Internet access on some carriers in developing countries. Airtel Zero, a similar platform from an Indian carrier that offers customers free access to specific apps and services, will also be in violation. The new regulation comes after a year of debate and consumer backlash in India, where many saw the new "free" data policies as creating tiered platforms of Internet access.
According to the Economic Times, the ruling has come after Trai spent months deliberating on how to regulate tiered data services. Predicting this outcome, Facebook encouraged local users to "save Free Basics" by writing in to Trai with formulaic support for what the company called "digital equality." Trai regulators didn't take kindly to Facebook's actions, calling the campaign an orchestrated opinion poll.
The rise of free data services (that is to say, free to the customer and paid for by the a carrier, advertiser, or other party) has re-ignited net neutrality discussions. In the United States, T-Mobile has won both supporters and detractors by offering access to streaming music and video services without incurring data charges. AT&T and Verizon both offer sponsored data to advertisers that doesn't count against customer's data caps. Despite broad support for net neutrality, the US Federal Communications Commission has yet to issue specific rules regulating these practices.
- Economic Times